'Dog Whisperer' Millan defends methods amid probe over cruelty to a pig

(Reuters) - Popular U.S. television dog trainer Cesar Millan, known as the “Dog Whisperer,” said on Friday he understands why he is being investigated for animal cruelty but stands by his training methods, as thousands signed a petition demanding his show be canceled.

Millan told People magazine that he is happy to cooperate with the investigation over a Feb. 26 episode of the Nat Geo WILD TV series, “Cesar 911” in which Millan uses a pig to train a French bulldog terrier mix called Simon, who had killed two pigs in the past.

On the show, Simon is seen chasing the pig and nipping his ear, causing it to bleed.

“In America, animals have rights to a certain extent. And when somebody complains about it, the law enforcement have to come and supervise. They do it to everybody and they’re doing the right thing,” Millan told People.

A petition signed by more than 10,000 people on Friday called Millan’s methods inhumane, saying he “used the pig as a bait for the dog all for ‘entertainment’ purposes.” It asked Nat Geo WILD to cancel his show.

Millan, 46, who found fame through his “Dog Whisperer” TV show that has been broadcast worldwide and who has sold millions of books about his techniques, said he disagreed that he used the pig as bait to provoke the dog, and that Simon and the pig “became best friends” and the dog was no longer aggressive to toward pigs.

In a follow-up segment, which was aired later in the episode, Simon is seen co-existing peacefully with a group of pigs, a chicken and other animals.

A representative for Millan confirmed his comments given to People. The Department of Animal Care and Control in Los Angeles County did not return Reuters’ requests for comment.

The American Humane Society said it had received complaints about the episode, and called the incident “abuse” in a statement.

Nat Geo WILD, a unit of 21st Century Fox, on Friday rallied around Millan and said that a clip from the episode that was shared online “caused some concern for viewers who did not see or understand the full context of the encounter.”

“The pig that was nipped ... was tended to immediately afterward, healed quickly and showed no lasting signs of distress.... As a result (of Millan’s work) Simon did not have to be separated from his owner or euthanized,” it said.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant in New York and Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Sandra Maler