Tales from the Set- Part 2: Producer Sheila Emery
By Shelia Emery
The Early Days
The early days of "Dog Whisperer" were very different from the last seasons of the show. We were a small group of dog loving, passionate TV producers who wanted to make a great reality show.
In the first two seasons, we shot two episodes per day. Many times we had to run between episodes. I remember one night where we were literally running down the street trying to catch the last rays of sun so we could get Cesar’s wrap-up interview for the show.
We didn’t have money in the budget for wardrobe, so Cesar wore his own clothes or he wore clothes that were bought at Costco. If you look at the first season, his pants were so long they bunched up over his too big boots that he wore because we got them for free.
We didn’t have a motor home to change in, so after shooting the first episode, Cesar would change his shirt on the street before going to the next location. We ate Subway sandwiches every day sitting on the curb in the neighborhood where we had just shot.
I often did Cesar’s makeup. I would lay the powder and makeup on the hood of a car and would put his makeup on while standing in the street. Those were the good ole days!
Even though we worked long days in uncomfortable conditions everyone involved with the show loved being there. It was such a privilege to be invited into people’s lives and to see the courage they had to be able to change themselves for the good of their dog.
One of my favorite episodes was with AJ and her dog Sparky. At the time, AJ was agoraphobic due to panic attacks. She needed Cesar to help rehabilitate her dog Sparky, who was very aggressive around other dogs. If Sparky could pass the test, he could be her service dog. AJ also had a terrible fear of pit bulls. I’ll never forget how Cesar got AJ to sit on the ground surrounded by a pack of pit bulls. She was able to do it because she trusted Cesar so much.
When Sparky became her service dog, AJ’s life totally changed. Now she travels all over the country giving talks on the benefits of unprocessed food. AJ has written a cookbook and is currently writing two more. She has produced three sold-out weekend events on nutrition, has her own website and is about to have her own television show. Not bad for a person who was a prisoner in her own home for almost a year.
Cesar is truly an animal genius. So many times on the show we’d say to ourselves, “What’s he going to do this time?” As producers, we would know how challenging the dog’s problems would be, but Cesar never knew until he walked in the door. Time and again I would think he was going to do one thing and then he’d come up with a totally new way of solving the dog’s problem that we’d never seen before.
I was always amazed at how gentle he would be with the dogs that wouldn’t want to walk. We’d see their owners trying to pull the dog down the street with no luck. And then Cesar would gently rub the dog’s back and presto it would start walking. He was soft as butter when needed and hard as nails when needed. Cesar’s presence is so powerful that we couldn’t let him see the dog until we’d shot its bad behavior. Many times Cesar would walk into the room and the dog would automatically stop doing its unwanted behavior.
Personally, the aggressive dogs were the scariest ones for me to be around. I would breathe and tell myself to be calm and assertive over and over whenever we did an aggressive dog story. Luckily, I think I was the only crew member who didn’t get bitten.
In the “Biting Lab” episode I was terrified when the dog suddenly jumped up on the production assistant and bit her leg and tore her jeans. She screamed and Cesar had to run and distract the dog. I remember him showing that dog that he was the pack leader by moving towards it with a tennis racket in his hand.
We were all hiding behind a fence hoping that nothing would happen to him. We didn’t have anything to fear because in a few moments Cesar had the dog under control and was teaching its owner how to walk it.
Working as a producer on "Dog Whisperer" was the career highlight of my life. It’s wonderful to work with people you like and admire on a show that makes a difference in the lives of people and animals. I’m looking forward to the next adventure I hope to have with the most amazing animal person on the planet, Cesar Millan.