Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Harry Met Peachie

Five years ago my family adopted a dog from the pound, a black lab mix with a scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt, we named him Harry.  Many of my weekly stories are inspired during morning walks with Harry.  Not long ago, we decided to adopt a rescue dog as a friend for Harry, another black lab mix that came to us with the name Peachie because she’s so sweet and fuzzy.

Harry loves his new friend.  She is full of energy, and enjoys playing chase and tug of war.  They aren’t far apart in human years, but in dog years, it’s as if Harry is 37 years old and has a new friend who’s just a teenager.  After a few weeks, though, Harry gave me a look that I interpreted as, “When does this play date end?  I’m exhausted.”  I recently enrolled them both in doggy training camp, and that’s what inspired this week’s story…

Young Cesar’s affinity for dogs was clear to everyone in his poor farming town of Culiac├ín, Mexico.  In some ways, it was difficult, because it led to his being teased, and he was nicknamed “El Perrero,” or “dog boy.”  Cesar grew up relating to animals more easily than to people.  In fact, he spent so much time watching American television shows starring well-trained actor-dogs like Lassie, that by the age of 13, he had decided he wanted to be a Hollywood animal trainer.

At twenty-one, Cesar told his parents he was leaving for the United States. His father gave him one hundred dollars, his entire life savings, and off Cesar went on his journey.  Cesar had no idea how to cross the border.  All he knew was that others before him had done it, so there was no reason he shouldn’t be able to as well.  He took the bus to Tijuana, the Mexican border town opposite San Diego, California, and spent two weeks looking for a way across.

When Cesar came upon a hole in the border fence, he met a guide there who was charging one hundred dollars to take illegal immigrants safely across.  He knew there was no way the man could know how much money he carried, but took it as a sign that if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to do whatever it takes.  He paid the fee and was taken through the fence, down a dark tunnel path and into the United States.

Cesar spent the next two months homeless in San Diego, sleeping under a freeway bridge while trying to negotiate his way around a new country.  He spoke almost no English and knew no one, but some other local immigrants taught him how to ride the trolley at specific times for free, giving him transportation to look for work despite having no money.

Cesar got his first job working as a dog walker and groomer, and when clients saw how well he soothed their nervous canines, they began asking if he could train the pets as well. Cesar developed a following, acquiring a reputation for being able to work with even the most aggressive dogs.  He also met actress Jada Pinkett, who became one of his clients and biggest supporters.  When Cesar told her about his dream of being a trainer in Hollywood, she said he had to learn English first, and helped him do so by paying for his first year of language tutoring. 

Cesar moved to Los Angeles and opened his own dog-training company.  After a profile of him ran in the Los Angeles times, he was approached by several production companies, and began working on the idea for a television pilot.  He continued to amass a growing number of clients from amongst Hollywood’s elite, all of which finally led to an offer for his first television show.

Cesar Millan, known to many as The Dog Whisperer, was a hit on the National Geographic Channel, and his show took off.  In its first season, it was the cable channel's top-rated series, and earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality Program.  Millan's first co-authored book was published just as the second season of his show began airing, and became a New York Times bestseller.  He was living his dream.

Commenting on his success, Cesar says:  “Even though the odds were against me, I tried to never think about the negative.  When you’re poor, you have nothing to lose and nothing to be afraid of.  The dream was always at the forefront, and holding onto it is what helped me succeed.”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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