For the past two days I've been immersed in conversations with several principals in the Ellen DeGeneres-Mutts & Moms-Iggy the Pup fiasco. And fiasco it is. I've spoken with Ellen's publicist, Ellen's dog trainer, the Vice President of Publicity for Telepictures (which produces Ellen's show), the attorney for Marina Baktis and Vanessa Chekroun (owners of Mutts & Moms in Pasadena, CA), and several respected animal rescue experts in the Los Angeles area - many who have worked with Mutts & Moms.
For readers who are unaware of the Ellen DeGeneres/Mutts & Moms fiasco, here is a video synopsis.
This past Monday, on her popular daytime talk show, Ellen DeGeneres dissolved into tears as she recounted her experience of adopting a puppy (Iggy) from a pet adoption agency (Mutts & Moms in Pasadena, CA - which to her credit, DeGeneres didn't name). After two weeks, Ellen and her partner, Portia de Rossi, decided Iggy was incompatible with their household and gave Iggy to Ellen's hairdresser (Cheryl Marks) and the hairdresser's eleven and twelve year old daughters. But the legal contract Ellen signed with Mutts & Moms forbade Ellen from giving Iggy away, and required Iggy to be returned to the Agency should Ellen decide not to keep him. By giving 7 lb. Iggy to her hairdresser and not returning him to Mutts & Moms as stipulated, Ellen broke her contract. As a result, Mutts & Moms went to the hairdresser's home, where, in the presence of the police, they confiscated Iggy, returned him to their agency, and found him another home.
Germane to this synopsis is the resultant vitriol that drove the HUMANS involved to such an impasse that rational negotiation on Iggy's behalf became impossible. Mutts & Moms failed to give the hairdresser's family its fullest consideration as legitimate adopters, and used its legal leverage to remove Iggy from a home where he was wanted. DeGeneres used the full extent of her celebrity to ignite a fan-based frenzy that resulted in death threats to the impoverished owners of Mutts & Moms. In addition, Baktis and Chekroun have likely lost their animal rescue business and small store. An online petition to Free Iggy has been launched by Ellen's supporters, while an earlier online petition, which asked petitioners not to adopt from animal rescue organizations until Iggy is returned, has rightfully been taken down.
Still the saddest repercussion of all is the potential for tens of thousands of dogs and cats to go unadopted, and to be euthanized, due to the anger engendered toward rescue groups as a result of this debacle.
Below are are few clarifications of inaccuracies reported by the media on this story:
1. Iggy did not live with DeGeneres and De Rossi for the full two weeks before he was given to hairdresser Cheryl Marks. Iggy was left in the care of Los Angeles dog trainer, Zach Grey, who reunited Iggy with DeGeneres and De Rossi after 9 days of individual and group training - at which time Degeneres and De Rossi concluded that they didn't want a young puppy - UNDERSCORING THE NEED FOR THE CONTRACTUAL REQUIREMENT TO RETURN ANIMALS TO THEIR AGENCIES IF THE ANIMAL IS UNWANTED. The fact is, DeGeneres and De Rossi did what thousands of adopters do. They wanted a puppy, but realizing the amount of work a puppy takes, they couldn't make that commitment. Can one honestly fault Mutts & Moms for enforcing a provision that protects rejected animals? If Mutts & Moms were to PUBLICLY disregard this requirement, it would pave the way for anyone to overrule this safeguard and recklessly dispose of an animal.
2. Contrary to the negativity generated toward Mutts & Moms by the powerful DeGeneres camp and biased media pundits, the animal rescue experts with whom I've spoken were complimentary toward the organization. Ricky Whitman, Vice President of Community Resources for the Pasadena Humane Society (PHS), told me she was not clearly represented in the press when quoted as saying "her group would've handled this [Iggy situation] very differently."
What Whitman actually meant is that since PHS has contracts to provide animal control services to different cities, they would have been required to remove Iggy in the presence of animal control officers and under much more stringent conditions - hence "differently." Whitman lauded the owners of Mutts & Moms for their rescue accomplishments, stating, "We have worked closely and well with Mutts & Moms in the past. We have honored them for their work." Whitman recounted the story of a pit bull puppy who'd been raised in a small bunny hutch. According to Whitman, Mutts & Moms was the only organization willing to accept the difficult task of rehabilitating this unfortunate animal - an accomplishment Whitman praised highly.
3. The DeGeneres camp's contention that Mutts & Moms went to the media FIRST does not square with the timeline of events. On the evening Mutts & Moms confiscated Iggy from the hairdresser's house, TMZ (also a Telepictures product) had been called to video the visit. According to Keith A. Fink, attorney for Mutts & Moms, it was the DeGeneres camp who contacted TMZ - NOT the media shy, show-biz naive owners of Mutts & Moms. Indeed, my own experience with the owners of Mutts & Moms bears witness to their abject fear of media, since their own attorney was unable to goad them into speaking with me or with the other media attempting to make contact.
4. The "Moms" in the name Mutts & Moms doesn't identify Marina and Vanessa as "moms" who rescue animals. The "Moms" in Mutts & Moms denotes the organization's inspired mission to adopt mother dogs from shelters once they have given birth and nursed their puppies - an arduous undertaking, since mother dogs are often euthanized after nursing their litter.
In the final analysis, this Ellen DeGeneres-Mutts & Moms-Iggy saga is a private issue between private individuals that landed on the national stage. If Ellen intended to use her show as the platform to manipulate this matter, she has made a dangerous error in judgement. She has crossed the regrettable line from comedy pulpit to bully pulpit and used her mega platform to attack "the little guy" - or in this case - "the little gals." And it's caused significant harm.
Yesterday on the phone, Laura Mandel, Vice President of Publicity for Telepictures, described Ellen as "a real person with real emotion." On this there is no doubt. But Ellen is also an incredibly powerful woman able to influence legions of fans. Beyond her cameras are millions of viewers she knows nothing about, capable of acts she can't control. They worship Ellen and protect her with a vengeance - and right now their vengeance is centered on two frightened rescuers who don't deserve their wrath. I've read some fan comments. Their hatred for Marina and Vanessa is shocking.
In the entertainment business, there is the long-standing concept of "a pro." "A pro" is an entertainer who, regardless of personal travails, faces the audience and does the job. In my opinion, Ellen is teetering between a "pro" and a woman who's unclear about her "job." She's abused her power by publicly challenging those less powerful. Rosie O'Donnell took on the President. Rosie also took on Trump. Others take on corporations, like Exxon and the airlines. But Ellen has challenged two defenseless woman with no resources - no fame, no fortune, no accolades and no ovations. Only attorney Keith Fink has come forth to champion their cause.
Across the nation, because of this fiasco, animal rescue organizations have taken an enormous hit - for which helpless animals will bear the brunt. To help revitalize this noble profession, I'm calling on Ellen DeGeneres to step up and intercede. I'm asking her to use her brilliance, her compassion, and her enormous reach to convene a panel of rescue professionals on her own show as quickly as possible to discuss what these organizations do and how they do it. There are lessons that need to be learned and rules that must be understood. My hope (though far-fetched) is that if Ellen does choose to do this, Mutts & Moms will participate - without the caviat that Iggy be returned to Cheryl and her daughters. There's an important lesson for Cheryl's daughters in all of this that has somehow been forgotten. The fact is, a contractual rule was broken. Sometimes the greater lesson is understanding the need to honor the rule - rather than the need to circumvent it.
On a personal note: For those who believe I'm holding Ellen to an unfair standard by suggesting she shield her personal issues from her viewers, I'll answer with this. One of the greatest gifts I've been given in my lifetme is the opportunity to teach. Every day I face rooms filled to capacity with adult students who care a great deal about me. I've faced them when I'm happy and I've faced them when I'm sad. I've faced them after losing family members, losing beloved animals, losing relationships, undergoing surgery, and more. But I neither share nor show my burdens. It is not my student's job to bear them. Nor is it Ellen's viewers' job to bear hers. We are simply there to serve.