When it comes to talking about plans for the future, there’s a dogged determination about Jessica Hernandez.
Fresh back from filming with dog behaviorist Cesar Millan in Los Angeles, Jessica has no doubt she is destined to work with colleagues of the four-legged variety.
“I could see myself actually having my own show,” the 11-year-old said. “I’m hoping to get to work with Cesar again, and hopefully one day I will be considered the Dog Whisperer.”
Jessica, in Grade 5 at Surrey’s Cambridge Elementary, won the chance to work with Millan through a contest that invited children aged eight to 10 years old to submit a video of themselves explaining why they admire Millan, along with footage of them working with a dog.
Jessica can’t remember a day when she hasn’t loved animals – dogs, in particular.
“One of my first words was ‘dog,’” the bubbly, well-spoken pre-teen said. “I’d write stories about me wanting to get my dog, Oreo. My teachers would keep on saying (to Jessica’s parents), ‘you’ve got to get this kid a dog!’”
Jessica first discovered Millan’s work at about seven years old, when her aunt introduced her to his reality television program, Dog Whisperer. In no time, she was hooked.
“I read his books, I watch his videos, I watch his TV shows – everything,” Jessica said. “I got really fascinated by him… the way he understands dogs, and he knows that they project energy and that people project energy.”
Jessica entered Millan’s contest in February. After months passed with no word, she had assumed her video didn’t make the cut among the thousands of entries that poured in. And then one day late last month, she got the call: she and a girl from Ohio had won, and would be flown to L.A. for two days of filming alongside Millan.
The first day, the girls went with Millan to visit a dog who was scared of people. Fuzzy Monster Truck – a toy Australian shepherd-chihuahua – was also very territorial with his owner, Jessica said. To address the behaviour, Millan would correct the dog when it growled, and had Jessica help massage it as one technique for calming it, she said.
The next day, Jessica participated in Millan’s first-ever attempt to rehabilitate a dog that became anxious when out on its owner’s fishing boat, particularly when the water became rough.
For this dog, Millan used massage as well as scents such as turkey to correct the behaviour, and Jessica again got to participate. After each filming session, she was interviewed to see what she had noticed about each dog, its owners and how Millan addressed the issues.
“It was so much fun,” she said, noting she has already tried some of the techniques with Oreo.
Jessica’s mom, Debbie Hernandez, described the experience as “a really unbelievable opportunity for all of us… a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
She noted it was Jessica’s second time meeting the “very down-to-earth, very humble” Millan. The first time was during his live tour last year, when Jessica was invited to introduce her puppy on-stage at the River Rock and Red Robinson casinos.
“It’s been a busy, exciting year,” Debbie said, adding Jessica is now rehearsing for a dual role in Surrey Little Theatre’s upcoming production of The Unusual Suspects. As well, Jessica and her 13-year-old brother, Anthony, were extras in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules, and in the upcoming Halloween production, Spooky Buddies.
The end result of the recent filming in L.A. is to air over two episodes in January.