It’s been a harrowing week for Ellen DeGeneres. First the talk-show host wept profusely on TV over her dog-adoption drama. Then she had to beg people to stop making threats against the adoption agency. Finally, she canceled two tapings of her show to take a rest from the stress.
Public weeping? Threats? All this, over a Brussels Griffon terrier mix named Iggy?
However one feels about the facts of the case, the essential passions at play ring true to many who have dogs and love them — just as they likely seem way over the top to those who don’t.
“Oh, I understand the intense emotions,” said Merrill Markoe, owner of four dogs, author, humorist and original head writer for David Letterman’s show. She added, though, that she didn’t quite see why DeGeneres would need to make them so public: “It wouldn’t be my inclination to go in front of cameras and announce something personal like that.”
Markoe says the public may not realize that dog rescue organizations, like the one tussling with DeGeneres, have rules because they’re so selective about who gets to take care of their dogs.
“They have their rules, and their contracts,” she said. “If you want their dog, you play along. They have the dog’s best interests at heart.”
For Markoe, her dogs are, in essence, “life at its core element.”
“They’re all naive good intentions,” she says. “They’re totally non-judgmental. I’m so popular amongst them! They love me with no stipulations,” she says. “It’s really very touching.”
‘It’s the unconditional love’
When Latanya Wilkinson, a professional dog walker, is feeling sad, her dog knows it — he comes and puts his head on her lap. “Animals bring out a different side of a person,” says Wilkinson, who walks dogs seven days a week and runs her own agency, spoil-a-pet.com, in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s the unconditional love. It doesn’t matter what you look like in the morning. It’s hard to explain it to someone else. I have friends who don’t quite get it.”
DeGeneres adopted Iggy, then gave it to her hairstylist’s family after the pooch couldn’t get along with her cats. The Mutt and Moms agency claimed DeGeneres violated the adoption agreement by not informing them that she was giving the dog away and removed Iggy from the hairstylist’s home Sunday — prompting DeGeneres to weep on her show, begging that the dog be returned.
Carol Leifer, a writer and comedian who co-created DeGeneres’ second sitcom, “The Ellen Show,” says she blames the incident on miscommunication, and sees the point of view of both sides. Mostly, she says, “I hope this doesn’t sully the image of rescue organizations. They do such good work for so little money.”
Leifer speaks passionately of her metamorphosis from a “complete non-animal person” to the owner of six rescued dogs, and counting. “My love of animals has transformed me,” says Leifer. “I’m a better person. It’s cleared the brush from my heart.”
Fellow animal-lover JoAnne Worley speaks just as passionately about her miniature Yorkie, named Harmony. The veteran comic actress, now appearing in Broadway’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” prefers to see the silver lining in the DeGeneres episode.
“It brings attention to the fact that wonderful pets are available for adoption, but also that people need be responsible pet owners,” said Worley, who is also president of Actors and Others for Animals. “The rules are there for important reasons.”
But the rescue group involved with DeGeneres gets criticism from one prominent pet expert, Tamar Geller, celebrity dog trainer and author of “The Loved Dog.”
“This whole thing was taken out of context,” says Geller. “It should have been handled much better. Yes, Ellen made a booboo. But you know what? She was coming from a good place.
“The rescue group may have won their battle — they got Iggy back — but they’ve lost the war,” Geller said. “They’ve given a bad rep to the entire rescue world. You know what? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”