The love of his life is a real bitch, and Michael Vartan couldn't be happier. When Vartan, then co-star of the hit ABC series Alias, met Millie, a chocolate Lab puppy, six years ago, it was love at first sight. She was the cutest thing he'd ever seen.
"She looked like a college football with legs," says Vartan, 41. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for her." That includes getting her name tattooed on his forearm. "I have many tattoos, and that's the one I will never regret."
Although Vartan likes to steer conversations away from his relationships with females of his own species, he's quick to gush about Millie. Often, she's all he wants to talk about. "My agent and my manager, they tell me, 'Stop talking about your dog; we want to get your career going.'"
Michael Vartan: Longtime Dog Lover
They needn't worry. His career is doing just fine. Starting in 2001, Vartan spent five seasons playing a spook opposite on-screen -- and, for a while, off-screen -- love interest Jennifer Garner in Alias. Now, he's wearing a white coat and stethoscope in the TNT hospital drama, HawthoRNe, with Jada Pinkett Smith. And, for better or worse, Vartan didn't get much attention from the tabloids until Millie turned up. "We were in InStyle; it was such a trip."
Vartan has always been a dog person. And dogs, it seems, have always taken to him. Callie, his family's German shepherd, never left his crib-side when he was an infant. He's a sucker for all animals and other creatures as well: "I was the weird kid who would rescue a fly out of the toilet." But if he were on a desert island, he'd want a dog. Preferably Millie.
So, what's the big deal about his dog? For Vartan, it's less about the love he gets from Millie than it is about the love he's able to give her. "We love our dogs, our pets, so much because we can love them the way we want to love someone else, without constraint or being judged." He sighs. "I just wish I was half the man my dog thinks I am."
Michael Vartan: Dog Advocate
Vartan believes that dogs -- and pets in general -- bring out people's softer sides. He points to prison programs, in which hardened convicts are trained as dog handlers and paired with pooches rescued from animal shelters. The prisoners help prepare the dogs for life as a pet, housebreaking and leash-training them. But it's not only the dogs that are affected. "Incredible bonds are formed," says Vartan. "You see killers just break down in tears over their dogs."
But not everyone feels such affection for four-legged friends, which is why Vartan gives his time and money to charities that work to combat animal neglect and abuse. "I go to a lot of events," he says. "Anything to fight animal cruelty." In May 2009, for example, he played in a celebrity poker match to raise money and awareness for The Humane Society's End Dogfighting in Los Angeles campaign. "When I hear about the unspeakable cruelty that people inflict on animals, I feel a complete and utter disgust for the human race," Vartan says. "Then I calm down."
As he speaks, he's got his eye on Millie, who is soaking in some California sun, and his voice turns warm and fuzzy once more. He can't get enough of her. So, does Millie feel the same way? "I'd like to think so," Vartan says. "But to her, I'm probably just a giant can opener with legs."