When Marina Baktis of Mutts & Moms explained to her celebrity adopters that only Mutts & Moms could re-home Iggy, and that he needed to be returned immediately, it was the beginning of a surreal sequence of events that could only happen in Hollywood. In the aftermath, Ellen's life goes on, as does her nationally syndicated talk show. There will be no Hollywood ending for Marina Batkis.
About three years ago, Marina started Mutts & Moms with her rescue partner, Vanessa. This is a volunteer effort, with Marina, Vanessa and a few hardworking volunteers logging hundreds of hours a month rescuing, caring for and placing homeless animals, answering calls and emails, screening adopters, transporting animals to and from adoptions and vet appointments, and countless other thankless jobs for which they receive nothing but the satisfaction of helping animals in need. If there was ever a sincere definition of a labor of love, this is it. Mutts & Moms gets its name from the organization's primary mission: saving moms left behind to be killed at shelters after their puppies have been adopted. I can hardly think of a more noble purpose for a rescue organization.
As President of Rescue & Humane Alliance-Los Angeles, I spoke to Marina at length this past Friday. Although she appeared on a few news programs and talk shows when the story broke, Marina has not spoken to any reporters since (despite numerous requests), and she has not given any interviews to tell her side of the story. She is understandably having some trust issues with the media that was so eager to cast her as the villain. I think it's important that some of the facts be clarified, as they have been hugely distorted by the media. You may still disagree with how Marina handled the situation, but that is irrelevant now. Mutts & Moms has been forced to close down, her business has been crippled, her life has been threatened, and she has been demonized on national television.
Here is Marina's account of the story as she told it to me:
Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi came to Marina's store in Pasadena and saw a dog they were interested in adopting. Her name was Tasha.
Tasha had not been cat-tested, and Ellen has two cats, so Marina decided to let them take Tasha home for the afternoon to see how she would get along with Elllen's other animals. After the adoption, Ellen called to say that Tasha was not cat-friendly, and Marina left straight away to pick her up. Iggy, who Ellen & Portia had also met and liked at the adoption, was in the car with her. He had recently been rescued from the Bakersfield shelter, and was being treated for an upper respiratory infection. That is why he was un-neutered.
They looked at Iggy again, he played in the yard with Ellen's other dog, and was briefly introduced to her cats. No adoption took place, so Marina left with both Tasha and Iggy. That night, Ellen left a message that they had decided to adopt Iggy. She said they had a trainer who could socialize Iggy with cats. Portia came to the store the next day to sign the adoption agreement, which Marina explained in detail, including how if there was ever a problem, Iggy would have to be returned to Mutts & Moms. Portia said that she understood. Marina told her that she would need to bring Iggy back to be neutered when he was finished with his medication, and she circled the provision stating the same in the adoption contract. Marina told Portia that the neuter was included in the adoption, but Portia said they would like to take care of Iggy's surgery themselves with their own vet. Portia left the store with Iggy.
There were several email follow-ups, including how Iggy was playing happily with their dog, not bothering the cats, and how Iggy would be going to their trainer for about a week while they were moving. Marina followed up a few weeks later. She received a reply from Portia that they "tried Iggy" and that he was "too much energy and time for them in their brand new home with so much going on in their lives." There was no mention of the cats. The email went on to say that Ellen's hairstylist and her family had met Iggy, fallen in love, and that Iggy had been re-homed.
Marina wrote back explaining that this was not acceptable and in violation of her agreement. She asked that Iggy be returned to the store in Pasadena the next day. She said that the family needed to fill out an application and go through the adoption process just like any other adopter. The family refused to bring the dog back, and although they eventually filled out an application (it was incomplete), they did not want to go through the process. The phone calls back-and-forth had become increasingly hostile, eventually leading to a call from Ellen's attorney. Marina felt compelled to go to the hairdresser's home to reclaim Iggy, at least for the time being.
When she arrived, Marina explained that she would need to take Iggy back until Mutts & Moms had an opportunity to review their application and discuss the adoption with their committee. It is important to understand that Marina was still willing to consider the adoption, and if everyone had been cooperative and non-confrontational, the outcome might have been different. Instead, the family called 911 saying that someone was there trying to steal their dog, and as if on cue, a TMZ camera crew appeared to capture the events on film. When the police arrived, they looked at the contract and determined that Marina had legal standing to take Iggy back.
The next day, Ellen broke down on her show. The rest is history.
Media Distortions: It is amazing to me that people are so quick to believe everything they hear in the media (especially the tabloid media). Does it really surprise people that the media would get it wrong, or distort things for dramatic effect, or withhold the context that serves to explain what
otherwise doesn't make sense? Marina clarified a few things for me.
* It was reported that Ellen never filled out an adoption application, and that there was no home check.
MARINA'S SIDE OF THE STORY: A trusted friend who had adopted to Ellen in the past vouched for Ellen and Portia as being a good home. Since Ellen and Portia were in the process of moving, Marina decided to go ahead with the adoption and do the home check later when they had moved into the new house. Although she never took a full tour of the current house, she was there, and it was obvious that Ellen has a beautiful home and that Iggy would be living the life of Riley there.
* It was reported that Mutts & Moms found the hairstylist's home unsuitable because they have a rule that they do not adopt small dogs to families with children under 14.
MARINA'S SIDE OF THE STORY: Mutts & Moms never said the home was unsuitable. They said that the hairstylist needed to fill out an application and be evaluated like any other adopter. They are wary to adopt small dogs to families with young children, but were always willing to consider this family. The family did not want to bring the dog back, and they were not willing to accept any outcome other than their keeping Iggy.
* It was reported that Mutts & Moms transferred the dog to Ellen unaltered, in violation of State law.
MARINA'S SIDE OF THE STORY. Iggy was not neutered at the time of his adoption because he was recovering from an upper respiratory illness and was unfit for surgery. This is not illegal, as illness is one of several exceptions to the law as it relates to rescue groups and the requirement that all animals be spayed/neutered prior to adoption. Marina follows up diligently with adopters in these atypical situations to insure the animals are fixed as soon as possible.
Mutts & Moms has rescued and placed over 400 animals. Many of those animals were saved from certain death at high-kill shelters. So who is really being punished when this rescue cannot continue its mission? Can anyone truly understand how Marina feels knowing that because of this incident, she can no longer pursue her life's work? Should this be the defining moment of her life, erasing years of tireless work for the animals?
At a time when half of the State of California is burning to the ground and our troops are fighting in Iraq, it is incredible that a puppy adoption in Pasadena is in the national news. Equally incredible is that over 10,000 people, manipulated by the tears of their favorite talk show host, felt compelled to send hate mail to someone they didn't even know about a situation they knew nothing about.
Mutts & Moms still has many animals in its care for which funds are needed. Donations and letters of support may be sent to Mutts & Moms, P.O. Box 50393, Pasadena, California 91115.
Support Marina, or forgive her, but let's end the public portion of this story. Iggy is safe. Nobody died. Fade out.
UPDATE: In response to a number of comments, I have confirmed with the attorney who handles Mutts & Moms' corporate work, that the corporation has been returned to good standing and is no longer suspended. This status will be reflected on the California Secretary of State's website soon (the site is updated weekly).
The corporation was suspended because Mutts & Moms inadvertently neglected to complete and return a Statement of Information, which is a 1-page form required to be filed annually by all California corporations. The form is essentially to confirm/update information about the corporation's address, corporate officers, agent for the service of process, etc. All that was required to cure this situation was completion of the form and payment of a nominal fee.
That being said, I agree that it is important for non-profits, rescue or otherwise, to keep up with their corporate paperwork, regardless of how incidental.