KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now for our series My Big Break, about triumphs big and small. Our next guest had a long and arduous journey on the way to success and his career as The Dog Whisperer.

CESAR MILLAN: My name is Cesar Millan, and I train people and rehabilitate dogs. I was born and raised in a farm in Mexico, in Sinaloa. "Lassie" and "Rin Tin Tin" were the show in my era.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LASSIE")

JON PROVOST: (As Timmy) Lassie!

MILLAN: And I was fascinated about that, fascinated how Timmy would tell, you know, Lassie, go get Uncle whatever, and go to the fire department and tell them that I need help. And I said, well, one day when I grow up, I'm going to go to America. I'm going to go to Disneyland or Hollywood, because that's where Lassie and Rin Tin Tin live.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: I knew I loved the idea of working with animals, something about it. And when I was 13 years old, I told my mom: Mom, you think I can be the best dog trainer in the world? And she said: You can do whatever you want. So I waited till eight years later, 21; and that's when I went back to my mother and said, I'm leaving. Where are you going? I'm going to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: So I went to Tijuana and pretty much, it took me two weeks to cross the border. And I came here illegally. After that, I was homeless in the streets of San Diego, and my home was under a freeway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: One day, I went to a grooming salon - because I'm a groomer myself. By then, I learned a sentence. Do you have application for work? That was my first sentence in English.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: One day, I enter into this grooming salon and two Caucasian ladies were there, older ladies. And I said, do you have application for work? And they started talking to me. I was in shock. And oh, my God, I wasn't prepared for all of this. The good thing was that a cocker spaniel was in the back. And this cocker spaniel was very aggressive towards them. They gave me clippers, and I went and grabbed the dog and start grooming him. And they were in shock because the dog didn't try to bite me, because I'm not afraid, you know? So I just come in calmly - I understand how you feel - gained the trust. That day, I make $60.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: I move to Inglewood, Calif., and then I start going around the neighborhood, and I start walking dogs. And I start walking dogs off leash. I didn't know it was illegal to walk dogs in America off leash in the land of the free - right? - especially where dogs have birthday parties. You know, dogs get married here, you know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: And that's how people started calling me the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of dogs. I didn't have business cards, so my business card was the referral. You know, I started getting all these people, all because I was walking dogs off leash.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLAN: The LA Times followed me for three days. The last question she asked me was, so you got a great thing going on. What would you like to do next? And without hesitation, I said, I would like to have a TV show. The newspaper came on a Sunday. By Monday was a line of producers outside, asking what was this show - will be about. And that's how "Dog Whisperer" was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: That was Cesar Millan. He became a U.S. citizen in 2009. You can see his new series on the Nat Geo Wild Channel. It's called "Cesar 911." We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email at mybigbreak@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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