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Free Iggy?

Free Iggy?

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Ellen DeGeneres and her flack caught flak when the talk-show host gave her adopted dog away to her hairdresser. PETA's Dan Mathews weighs in on the side of the agency who took the dog back.

Dan Mathews, the gay vice president of animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says Ellen DeGeneres has a "heart of gold and only meant well," when she gave her rescue dog to her hairdresser's family. "But animal adoption agencies have endless stories of seemingly good homes that end up as disasters for animals."

By now, the story-turned-media-sensation is well known: DeGeneres and her partner, Portia de Rossi, had initially adopted Iggy, a Brussels Griffon terrier mix, from the nonprofit animal-rescue Mutts and Moms. But despite work with a trainer, the dog proved incompatible with the couple's cats. DeGeneres then gave Iggy to her hairstylist, Cheryl Marks. Mutts and Moms contacted DeGeneres to check in on the dog, and DeGeneres admitted they had given Iggy to Marks. The agency told her they had violated the rules of an agreement de Rossi signed and that if they couldn't keep the dog, he must be returned to Mutts and Moms. The agency went to Marks's home Sunday and removed Iggy despite pleas from the family.

Mathews said in an e-mail Thursday that it was "terrific" that Mutts and Moms is so stringent about checking out homes for its animals, since "a lot of people place animals out of guilt, which isn't the best motivating factor in finding them a home." DeGeneres spokeswoman Kelly Bush told Advocate.com Thursday evening that Ellen fully supports rules set by rescue services and takes total responsibility for not reading the contract, but there is a larger issue. "The most important thing is the animal having a good home," Bush said. "That should be taken into consideration over the letter of the contract."

Keith Fink, a lawyer who has been speaking for Mutts and Moms, said previously that the agency doesn't place animals in homes with children under 14. Cheryl Marks has two daughters, ages 11 and 12. That's one point PETA takes issue with. In a statement sent to Advocate.com, PETA's media relations director Michael McGraw said "the agency's policies of doing home checks and not allowing people to transfer animals to others are good rules that protect animals." But "there are certainly suitable homes for animals with kids in them -- it is all about adults taking responsibility for all dependents."

A new twist to the story emerged Thursday when Access Hollywood reported on its Web site that the Mutts and Moms corporation was suspended last December because a statement of information document was not filed with the California secretary of state. That means the contract de Rossi signed may not have been valid in the first place, the Web site reported.On Thursday DeGeneres said on her talk show she would no longer discuss Iggy unless he was returned to the family, adding that the furor over the incident "had gotten out of hand." She decried reports that the owners of Mutts and Moms had received death threats. "That's not OK," DeGeneres said. "You don't resort to violence." DeGeneres won't be doing much public speaking at all for the next few days -- a post on the show's Web site indicated that "Ellen is taking a long weekend and would be back with a new show Tuesday."

The scuffle initially became public on Tuesday after DeGeneres made a plea on her daytime talk show for Iggy's return. "I'm sorry I didn't call you," DeGeneres said through sobs. "I'm sorry I did the wrong thing. Just give it back to the family." On Wednesday DeGeneres again asked for Iggy's return and called the conflict "insane."On the same morning, Mutts and Moms co-owner Marina Batkis spoke on CBS's The Early Show, where she explained that DeGeneres and de Rossi had violated their written agreement with the agency. "We won't be bullied into placing a dog with people we don't know -- we know nothing about -- just because a celeb is involved," she said during the interview.

The Early Show was hardly the only outlet covering the story. Numerous Web sites replayed DeGeneres's plea, while newspapers and cable TV programs explored every angle of the conflict. Entertainment news web site TMZ.com also ran an online interview conducted with DeGeneres, de Rossi, and members of the Marks family. On Thursday, details of a voice message left by Bush were published in the New York Post, with Fink accusing Bush of threatening the agency.In the voice message Bush said DeGeneres would be filing legal action, would take the story to the media, and that Mutts and Moms should call them back, the Post reported. Fink told the Post DeGeneres was "using her power and access to the media to destroy this agency in the media," while Bush denied making threatening remarks and said all she did was tell them "there is no need to escalate this."

Tell that to Ellen fans. One DeGeneres supporter went so far as to create a Web site, GetIggyBack.com, which features a petition encouraging the return of the dog. While most of the posts on the site were strongly pro-DeGeneres, a few comments sided with Mutts and Moms, with one post arguing the agency "made a mistake to let Ellen adopt and now they have corrected that mistake."

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