When asked for one word to describe shelter dogs, Brandon McMillan didn’t hesitate.
“Voiceless. That is why they need us to stand up and speak for them. They can’t do it themselves, so it is up to us to figure out solutions,” said McMillan, whose actions speak even louder than his words as the host/trainer of the Emmy Award-winning CBS series “Lucky Dog,” now in the middle of filming its seventh season.
The show follows McMillan as he rescues out-of control, untrained dogs who are often considered unadoptable from a neighborhood shelter and transforms them into family pets or trained service dogs for people in need.
The series has struck a chord with animal lovers — about 2 million viewers tune in each Saturday morning — and Tucsonans will have a unique firsthand opportunity to hear McMillan recount his fascinating career during the 75th Anniversary Banquet of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Hilton El Conquistador Tucson, 10000 N. Oracle Road.
“We are thrilled to have someone with Brandon’s background and credibility come to our community,” said Diana Cannon, chief development officer for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. “We will invite some local dog trainers so that he can meet with them and share his techniques, then he will follow up as the keynote speaker at the banquet, where we look forward to hearing about his amazing career. We also hope to have shelter animals so that he can do some demonstrations and share his expertise with the community.”
McMillan’s expertise is hard-won: He began learning at a young age from his father and uncle, who were exotic-animal trainers taught by Gunther Gebel-Williams of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. McMillan began training neighborhood dogs as a child; he progressed into working with animals such as tigers, bears, lions, wolves and reptiles for commercials, TV and movies, including “We Bought a Zoo,” “The Hangover,” “Red Dragon,” “The Jungle Book II” and more. He has also trained dogs for numerous Hollywood celebrities.
Whichever animal he trains, McMillan takes it all in stride.
“To me, these animals are not unusual. They are just like different subjects in school, like math, science, social studies and English, where you use different skills. That is what training animals is to me: What subject am I working on today?” he said.
A surfer who practices jiu-jitsu and judo, McMillan also enjoys diving with sharks, as shown in the Shark Week documentary, “Great White Abyss.”
He admits there are few parallels between training dogs and swimming with sharks.
“You are talking about the difference between a four-cylinder car and a Ferrari: You have to drive them much differently. With sharks, one wrong move can send you to the hospital, if not kill you,” he said.
While he views his work as “so much fun that it is not like a job,” McMillan recognizes his decision to do something he loves has been key.
“I think the universe will find a way to bring money into your life one way or another, and the secret is just finding a job that you are passionate about and not worrying about money,” he said.
He has also applied that philosophy as co-founder of the Argus Service Dog Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to training service dogs to assist disabled veterans.
He looks forward to sharing stories about his career, his current projects and his dreams for saving shelter dogs with Tucsonans as the HSSA celebrates 75 years of service to the community and placement of more than 1 million pets into forever homes.
“My dreams are constantly evolving ... but my ultimate dream would be that hopefully, in the near future, we would not to need to do this because that would mean all of the dogs have a home and all of the shelters are clear,” McMillan said.