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Dog guru bites back
Dog guru bites back

Very soon, Cesar Millan will have a new television show, a book, a tour, a documentary, and - if she says yes - a fiancee.

The year finished on a high note for Millan as he ended his reign as TV's Dog Whisperer and bounced back from a suicide attempt in May 2010 that left him unconscious and in hospital.

In Cesar Millan: The Real Story, he spoke publicly for the first time about the overdose that almost took his life. The documentary also launched a global speaking tour.

"It's rare when someone with his level of celebrity is willing to completely open up and share the struggle and hardship it took to find success and happiness," said Geoff Daniels, executive vice-president and general manager of Nat Geo Wild. "Cesar doesn't hold anything back, and I'm certain our audience will feel even closer to him for it."

The 43-year-old Mexican-born dog handler rose to fame in 2004, when his first TV series, The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, became National Geographic's top-rated show.

Millan grew up in Culiacan, the largest city in the Mexican State of Sinaloa, and worked on his grandfather's farm in the hopes of becoming the best dog trainer in the world.

At 21, alone and unable to speak English, he crossed the border and lived on the streets for two months before getting a job as a groomer and walker. Jada Pinkett (pre-Will Smith) hired him and got him an English tutor when she learnt he wanted to be on TV.

As his popularity grew, his professional and personal lives appeared rosy: he became an author, made appearances in movies and on television, and his wife gave birth to two sons.

In 2010 though things took a tumble: his go-to pit bull, Daddy, died in February; a month later, he learnt his wife of 16 years planned to divorce him; in May, he attempted suicide.

"I felt defeated, a big sense of guilt and failure. I was at the lowest level I had ever been emotionally and psychologically," he wrote last year on his website without mentioning his overdose.

He rejected antidepressants, choosing instead to get a grip through his pack dog wisdom and use exercise, discipline and affection to heal. Another pit bull trained by Daddy has taken over Daddy's duties, though Junior will never take his place.

"Daddy was my Tibet, my Himalaya, my Gouda, my Buddha, my source of calmness," Millan said.

A new love in his life also helped, one whom Millan calls The One. Jahira Dar lives with Milan and his youngest son in Los Angeles, and Millan said he planned to propose soon.

"It's a surprise," he joked. "I am a traditional guy, so I like to do the whole parent thing. I know they are going to say yes, but I like the whole Cinderella story."

Besides meeting Dar, constant work also helped him turn it around, said Millan, who described himself as a punctual workaholic who delegates chores and seldom cracks a smile. He runs a rehab complex, the Dog Psychology Centre, at a ranch in Santa Clarita, a magazine and a philanthropic foundation, and sells his own line of dog products and instructional CDs and DVDs.

His seventh book, A Short Guide to a Happy Dog, was released last week and Nat Geo Wild also launched a new show, Leader of the Pack. Dog Whisperer ended its run in the US on September 15.

The new series, which was filmed in Spain, aims to increase pet rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming around the world.

It will feature his training philosophy, a belief that every dog knows its place and follows rules set by the pack leader - in this case, a human such as an owner or a trainer.

His success hasn't been without critics.

But Daniels dismissed them, saying that "few have ever spoken to him directly or taken the time to understand what he is all about - which is a man with a deep passion for helping animals and people."

That passion for animals - especially dogs - is evident. Millan also defended his love for pit bulls, saying: "It's not the breed, it's the human behind the dog." Rehabbing dogs is easy, he said, but training people is not.

"A dog would never see me as a Mexican or immigrant or think things people say about me. Dogs don't rationalise. They don't hold anything against a person," he said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. MensLine Australia 1300.

78 9978.