For many, losing a dog is like losing a family member.
That's no less true for the dog master himself, Cesar Millan, most famously known as the "Dog Whisperer."
The international TV star, who owns dozens of dogs and has rehabilitated countless others on his wildly popular show and at his Dog Psychology Center in Los Angeles, recently lost one of his most prized companions: a 16-year-old "pit bull" named Daddy.
Daddy, referred to by Mr. Millan as his right-hand man, soul mate, and mentor, died peacefully on Feb. 19. He appeared in more than 50 episodes of The Dog Whisperer and played an instrumental role in many dog rehabilitations. Outside the show, Mr. Millan credits Daddy with helping his marriage and even teaching his son Andre to walk.
Perhaps Daddy's most significant achievement was helping reshape public perception of "pit bulls." Mr. Millan called Daddy "an ambassador" for pit bulls, demonstrating to the world that "pit bulls" are not the inherently aggressive dogs they're often made out to be.
"All you need to do is look at Daddy or speak to anyone who ever met him to realize that 'pit bulls' aren't inherently vicious animals," Mr. Millan told The Blade in an e-mail interview last week, just before leaving for a tour of the United Kingdom. "Daddy was the embodiment of calm-submissive balance. He would never hurt a fly."
Mr. Millan's dog training philosophy hinges on the idea of "Power of the Pack," imitating the social dynamics of a pack in the wild to balance problematic dogs and establish their owners as "pack leaders." An exemplary graduate of this training himself, Daddy frequently helped Mr. Millan bring stability to the relationship between other dogs and their families.
"Sometimes the best teacher for a dog is another, already balanced dog," Mr. Millan explained, calling Daddy a "canine guru."
"When we had problems with socializing a dog on the show, or when we needed to show a dog or a puppy the correct way to behave, we brought in Daddy. His mellow energy and calm submission made him the perfect teacher."
Daddy could even show humans how to be calmer and more aware, Mr. Millan said.
"When Daddy smelled a flower, he didn't just smell the flower; he smelled one petal, and then another, and another, until he had smelled the entire flower. He was very thorough in the way he experienced the world around him," Mr. Millan recalled. "I think that as much as he taught the dogs on the show about how to behave properly, he also taught me how to let the little things roll off my back and live in the moment."
The result of Daddy's significant presence on the show was that he became almost as much of a celebrity as Mr. Millan himself, said Chris Albert, vice president of communications for National Geographic Channel. Mr. Albert, who has known Mr. Millan and Daddy since the Dog Whisperer show began six years ago, said people would line up to get their pictures taken with Daddy when the two were on tour together.
"There would be people who would say, 'You know, Daddy has completely changed my mind about dogs or about 'pit bulls' or about life,'•" Mr. Albert said. "It was just amazing to hear those stories."
The two were so close that Mr. Millan never had to use words to communicate with Daddy, Mr. Albert said.
"It was just body language," he said. "They just knew each other so well."
Mr. Millan was introduced to Daddy when the dog was a puppy when the rapper Reginald Noble, known by his stage name "Redman," brought Daddy to the Dog Psychology Center because he was having trouble handling him. Daddy lived at the center and in Mr. Millan's home and became a legally adopted member of the family a few years ago.
When asked to share his favorite memory of Daddy, Mr. Millan said it would be hard to pick just one. But he said preparing Daddy's food every day was an activity they both savored.
"It was like meditation for both of us. I mixed it all by hand so that my scent was on the food and to make it soft enough for him to eat," Mr. Millan said. "It's a ritual that I try to take my time with because it creates a strong bond between you and the dog."
Mr. Millan hopes Daddy's character and presence on The Dog Whisperer will contribute to gradually encouraging a rollback of breed-specific legislation that targets "pit bulls." He applauded Toledo's efforts to re-examine its vicious-dog law, which has led to hundreds of "pit bulls" being killed because of the catch-and-kill mentality of former Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon, who was forced into retirement because of the public outcry over the county's 72 percent kill rate at its dog pound last year.
"It sounds like Toledo is already well on its way to positive change," Mr. Millan said. "You can't make people think a certain way or act a certain way, but you can show them that a better way exists. That's what we're trying to do with Dog Whisperer. We want to encourage people to really take responsibility for their dogs' behavior by understanding that their actions and energy create the environment that creates that behavior."
To honor Daddy, Mr. Millan and his family have established an emergency animal rescue fund in his name. The fund will help dogs that are victims of abuse or violence and those affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes and fires. Daddy will be buried in a special temple that Mr. Millan plans to build on his California ranch.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett