Sunday, October 21, 2007

Linda Milazzo on the Ellen Degeneres/Mutts and Moms Controversy

While checking recent news reports on the Ellen Degeneres/Mutts and Moms controversy, I found a link to Linda Milazzo's Smirking Chimp Blog entitled Ellen DeGeneres' Misuse of Media and A Challenge To Right That Wrong. I highly recommend this post for the quality of its factual content, obtained from direct contact with many of the people involved in this controversy, but I respectfully disagree with many of the conclusions reached by Milazzo, and I hope to correct some of her mistaken, albeit good faith assertions. To wit:
"By giving 7 lb. Iggy to her hairdresser and not returning him to Mutts & Moms as stipulated, Ellen broke her contract.
Despite the three years I spent earning my law degree from an ABA approved law school, during which time I was a Member of Law Review, a Teacher's Assistant for Legal Writing, and a Certified Student Attorney prosecuting Civil Rights claims in federal court, I am not willing to offer an opinion as to whether Ellen broke her contract with Mutts and Moms, and I would caution anyone else from offering such an opinion. (For a longer tome on my views regarding the contract in question, please see my earlier blog post But Ellen Degeneres Signed a Contract! So What?)
"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."
Ellen did nothing of the sort. By virtue of the fact that TMZ already had the video of Mutts and Moms seizing Iggy from his new home, Ellen's celebrity was already part of the equation, and her subsequent appeal to the simple human decency of Mutts and Moms owners was made in good faith. In striking contrast, every action and statement of Mutts and Moms has been made in bad faith and with the sole intention of inflicting pain, humiliation, and scorn upon Ellen and the family that Ellen had placed Iggy with.
"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."
When this story first broke, I had similar concerns, but one of the very good things to come out of this controversy has been an increased awareness of the worldwide problems of pet overpopulation and animal cruelty. Moreover, while Mutts and Moms may be experiencing a self-inflicted hardship, more level-headed pet rescues are having no trouble standing up to public scrutiny. One such rescue is Walkin' the Bark, an international dog rescue based in the San Francisco Bay Area which specializes in abuse cases from Taiwan, one of the worst places in the world to be if you're a dog.
"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."
The classic "floodgates" argument fallacy, one that totally glosses over the heavy-handed and irresponsible actions of Mutts and Moms in seizing Iggy from a loving home. I've reviewed the contract that Mutts and Moms used to place Iggy with Ellen Degeneres, and *IF* there was a breach of that contract by Ellen, the appropriate remedy would be a lawsuit for monetary damages. There is absolutely nothing in that contract that gives Mutts and Moms the right to engage in a "self-help" remedy; if they wanted to exercise their "right to reclaim" Iggy, they would have to sue for specific performance and get a court order.
"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."
Yes and no. Even those organizations most sympathetic to Mutts and Moms have praised them for their past efforts. Other than the fallacious "floodgates" argument made by Milazzo and others, I have yet to hear one valid reason for removing Iggy from what by all reports was a loving home. The only reason offered by Mutts and Moms for doing so was that they have a policy of not placing dogs in homes with children under the age of 14, and that excuse just doesn't pass muster.
"In the final analysis, this Ellen DeGeneres-Mutts & Moms-Iggy saga is a private issue between private individuals that landed on the national stage."
I wholeheartedly disagree. Mutts and Moms knew they were dealing with a celebrity when they placed Iggy with Ellen Degeneres, and their subsequent hostility towards Ellen when the media spotlight focused on them is absolutely bizarre. Had Iggy's placement with Ellen been more successful, I'm sure that Mutts and Moms would have been only too happy to bask in the media spotlight and take credit for the due diligence that they never performed with Ellen.
"[Ellen's] abused her power by publicly challenging those less powerful."
I wholeheartedly disagree. Ellen's public appeal to Mutts and Moms was an appeal to simple human decency. If I were Ellen, I would have hired a lawyer to represent the family from which Iggy was taken within an hour of his abduction, and -- based upon what I know of the law and the facts of this case -- Mutts and Moms would have found themselves in a world of legal hurt. I commend Ellen for her restraint, and for having the faith in human nature that I lost long ago.
"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 lifetime is the opportunity to teach. . . . 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."
And yet here you are, citing your own restraint on personal issues as some sort of validation for your attempt to use your influence as a writer to publicly criticize Ellen. I fail to see the distinction. If you are so in favor of separating private issues from public discourse, why not send Ellen a private missive?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your bias is influencing your overview of the situation.

How can you presume to know the motivations of either side?

I do agree that the contract wasn't really enforceable the way it was done by M&M and that a contract isn't necessarily an end-all be-all.

But beyond analyzing all of the minutia, I'd say two things come out of it for me: the start and the end.

The dog shouldn't have been adopted to Ellen to start, and to end--it is with a new family.

Yes there are things that could have been done differently as the saga unfolded, but that's about the size of it.

9:39 AM, October 22, 2007  
Blogger Internet Esquire said...

anonymous writes:

"Your bias is influencing your overview of the situation."

You say that like it's a bad thing. Everyone has a bias. That's the only way that opinions can be formed. However, a scrupulous advocate, such as myself, will always try to see things from other perspectives, and is always willing to change his mind if new evidence comes to light. In this particular instance, my bias was formed when I discovered that Iggy was removed from what by all appearances was a loving home. I'm still waiting for someone to contradict that fact.

"How can you presume to know the motivations of either side?"

I am occasionally duped, but the vast majority of people I encounter will reveal and/or betray their motivations by their actions.

9:53 AM, October 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying, but I'm not saying that having a bias is necessarily bad.

I said that your bias is influencing how you view this situation.

I don't think you can get as much as you did from their actions.

Time will tell, perhaps!

11:22 AM, October 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. You don't even know the people to determine Iggy is in a loving home. You only saw a video for how many minutes to come to your conclusion? Sometimes by the time we find out our judgement was wrong, it's too late.

12:02 AM, October 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article. It's interesting and allowed me to see two different viewpoints. I respectfully disagree with some of your disagreements in the second half of your article but I do agree with some of your earlier arguments. Sorry I won't be pointing out what part of your article I dsagree with. I will have to write a whole article myself to explain why I disagree with you. Then again, I may be bias though just as I believe you are bias. And I want to remind the readers to keep an open mind and allow both parties (Ellen and M&M) to tell their story. Don't rely on this article to be facts and in forming your opinion just because the writer is a lawyer. There will always be one lawyer who supports the plaintiff and one who supports the defendent. Is this lawyer for the plaintiff or for the defendent and will he win his argument or will it be the lawyer for the other party?

12:44 AM, October 23, 2007  
Blogger Joanna said...

Someone said the point of animal rescue organizations is finding good homes for animals. I would amend that to finding good lifetime homes. No organization can survive by renting out "cute and adorable" and risk being flooded with returned animals later (animals with medical problems or senior animals). There is a lot more involved in vetting potential adopters than meets the eye. Suppose once the 11 and 12 y.o. children are in college the dog is unwanted? I get those calls from parents saying they only adopted "for the children" and now want to dump the animal. I am sure on this and on other points (e.g., ability to cover vet bills should the need arise) M&M vets applicants seeking to adopt their animals.

Second, this adoption contract (common among animal rescuers) is similar to acquiring property with a historic designation. Such properties are solely owned by a purchaser, but may not be renovated or the facade changed without prior approval. - Joanna Harkin

9:51 AM, October 23, 2007  
Blogger marya said...

So, you disagree. So what? You just have a different opinion showing that experts can disagree--if you are an expert since we have no clue about you really. Ellen has an attorney. Mutts and Moms have an attorney. Only one thing is fact and that is the facts on the side of Mutts and Moms have gotten virtually ZERO media attention.

10:58 AM, October 23, 2007  
Blogger Internet Esquire said...

marya wrote:

"So, you disagree. So what?"

Well, you seem to care. Why else would you post a comment here?

"Only one thing is fact and that is the facts on the side of Mutts and Moms have gotten virtually ZERO media attention."

I wholeheartedly disagree. Attorney Fink has been quite busy spinning the media with his version of this dispute, and has been somewhat successful in characterizing Ellen as the wrongdoer. Moreover, in the interests of fair play, I reposted (without further comment) the well-informed commentary of Scott Sorrentino, President/ Co-Founder of the Rescue & Humane Alliance-Los Angeles on my website, which is very sympathetic to Mutts and Moms. It can be found here.

12:39 PM, October 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suppose Ellen adopted a loving pit bull puppy and because she doesn't do home visits gave it to her buddy who has a lot of land and says he is familiar with the breed.

She thinks she is doing the dog a favor.

Suppose that buddy was Michael Vick.

Would folks then see the value of a contract and a home-visit requirement?

1:00 PM, October 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joanna posted: "Suppose once the 11 and 12 y.o. children are in college the dog is unwanted?"

Suppose the owner developed cancer? Suppose the owner's child died? Suppose the owner was hit by a car? Suppose the owner developed a serious, non-life-threatening illness and had to move to a care facility that didn't allow pets?

You cannot decide whether to adopt a dog out based on such far-off suppositions. That is just life. Even if the dog is mainly for the girls, they might take it with them when they move out. I did myself and I've known plenty of other people who have. And a dog adopted for one person is often beloved by some or all other family members, who would never think of getting rid of it if anything happened to the primary owner.

Following your logic to its natural conclusion, dogs should never be adopted out but should spend their lives in cages, since things can happen to foster families too. Sometimes, I wonder if some rescuers feel that way, deep down. Your article would indicate that perhaps some do.

At some point, you need to let go. This just looks like a freakish need to control every outcome, which is impossible. And the insistence that "we know better, nobody outside rescue does" us-against-the-world is a weirdly cultish attitude taken by many in the anti-Ellen camp. I'm sorry if rescue has made dog-rescue people see the worst that people can do to dogs, but there are good-hearted non-rescue people out there who really do care what happens to a dog they place, and who do place that dog carefully and well. This was one instance. The idea that someone posted, that Ellen would get a pit bull and give it to Michael Vick is a ridiculous, specious, straw man argument.

8:42 PM, October 23, 2007  
Blogger Joanna said...

>>At some point, you need to let go. This just looks like a freakish need to control every outcome, which is impossible.<<

I fully support people rehoming animals versus depending on experts. Who knows an animal better for one thing, and cats particularly do not do well when moved around. I in fact developed a website to help people rehome their own animals (

However, even private individuals adopting out animals may ask and expect that if a placement is not successful the animal will be returned to them rather than passed along to someone else. M&M contractually elicited this agreement in fact.

Of course, no one can predict all that might go wrong, or lenders would never lend money on homes. One can mitigate potential losses though, and that is the purpose of adoption screening.

No rescuer would rather keep an animal in kenneled than placed, but any port in a storm mentality is why so many animals are dropped off at shelters. They are "sympathy adoptions" (I'll take not because I want a cat or dog right now, but because of sympathy for the person giving up the animal). Sadly Iggy's placement sounded more like a sympathy adoption to me than a careful choice, more akin to a Las Vegas wedding a la Brittany Spears than a careful decision to adopt a dog. When people want an animal and search for ones available, consider various breeds (as the Obama family is doing now -- or having it done for them!) and pay a fee, generally there is a higher level of commitment. Iggy's placement was more of a while the good times last adoption versus "If this dog needs training or gets sick or we move, we're committed to Iggy."

That said, if Iggy came from a shelter where euthanasia was probable, I could understand an adopter bypassing returning an animal to such an agency, but not in this case. It was wrong for Iggy, wrong for M&M and wrong of Ellen and Portia, however well-intended.
- Joanna Harkin, Wash DC

9:08 AM, July 16, 2008  

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