Recently I heard from Ernesto Robles, a friend I had helped overcome his fear of dogs on Dog Whisperer. Now Ernesto was helping other people with their fears. Ernesto told me that he had met a 14 year old young man through his involvement with his kids’ school. This teenager was a big fan of Dog Whisperer, and had written a great essay about his pets and what they meant to him and how my work had influenced him.
What Ernesto told me next stopped my heart: the teen had been bullied non-stop since he was in elementary school, and a couple of months ago, it became too much for him, and he tried to take his own life. I spent time with him this week, and I am so grateful he didn’t succeed. He is such a smart and wonderful kid. He’s a straight-A student and he is going to bring a lot to the world if he gets the chance. And he will get the chance.
Ernesto and I spoke about our own experiences getting bullied as children and teenagers. Ernesto was beaten so badly he was hospitalized. I was bullied in Mexico because I was poor and called an el perrero — the “dirty dog boy.” They made fun of me because dogs followed me around and they thought I was dirty and had fleas and ticks. I didn’t realize until I came to America that having dogs follow me around might be a good thing.
All of us have something about us that makes us different. It might be because of the color of our skin. Because we have a different religion. Because we or our parents come from another country. Because we like boys or girls. Because we’re heavy or skinny. Because we’re short or tall. Because our hair’s a certain color. Because we’re in special classes. Because we’re poor.
It doesn’t matter what it is, bullies will find something different about you and try to make your life hard. For me it was because I was short, poor, and had dogs following me around. But when I told my mother at the age of 13 that I wanted to be a dog trainer, she believed in me and encouraged me and didn’t let me listen to the negative things people said about me. If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone like that in your life, there are always dogs — they love and accept you no matter what. And when I came to America, I couldn’t speak a word of English, I was poor and homeless, but all of a sudden it was cool to have dogs following me. Over time, I went from being the “dirty dog boy” to the “dog whisperer.” It really does get better.
I hated seeing in the news so many stories about teen suicides, and also about bullied kids going to school and taking revenge. Don’t let anger take over you. On Dog Whisperer, I worked with a Labrador named Holly. Holly was very aggressive when she met me and bit my hand. I didn’t want her to think that she made me afraid of her, so I didn’t budge when she bit me. Even though I had to go to the emergency room later and get stitches from what she did. Now Holly’s at the Dog Psychology Center and we can play like best friends.
I wish I could tell you that bullying will change. It won’t. But you can change how you react to it. Whatever you do, don’t hurt yourself and don’t hurt other people, because that’s how it gets worse.
I want to thank Ernesto, my fellow “dog boy,” and his mother for inspiring me to make this video for the It Gets Better Project.
Let’s all work together to be kind and support each other, even if we’re different. If we do that, it really will get better.
Stay calm and assertive,
The It Gets Better Project began in response to the alarming number of suicides of teenagers, particularly LGBT teens. If you or someone you know is being bullied, or contemplating harming themselves, please seek help. There are many resources available below:
There’s also a great program in schools which I helped develop along with Yale University and North Shore Animal League — it’s called the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum and uses dogs in the classroom to help teach children compassion and empathy and has been shown to help combat bullying.
For dog training advice visit: CesarsWay.com