Thursday, October 18, 2007

An open letter to Ellen Degeneres

(Yeah, I know, slightly OT but we do discuss rescues and rescue ethics here a lot and I think this is in keeping with that. Also, I have a strong opinion on the matter and this is what I feel like typing about this morning so this is what you get.)

The news this week is full of stories about how the mean, mean rescue people took a dog back because Ellen DeGeneres gave it to her hairdresser. Clearly there is nothing more important to discuss, as neither Lindsay Lohan nor Paris Hilton has felt the need to flash their crotches this week (thank you, Jesus). Well, I'd like to have a word with Ellen, and while I doubt she reads the Fugly blog, I think it's a good topic for discussion so I'm going to write it up.

Yes, I stole the pic from TMZ.

Dear Ellen:

I read the rant on your official web site about how terrible you think it is that Mutts & Moms took back the dog they adopted out to you because you violated the contract by giving it to someone else that you think is a good home. I have read elsewhere how your girlfriend signed the contract, you didn't read it, blah blah.

Well, Ellen, let me tell you a few things about rescue. I've done small animal rescue (in Los Angeles, as a matter of fact - but cats instead of dogs) and I've done large animal off and on over the past 20 years. I have seen pets dumped because they bit someone, pets dumped because they scratched someone, pets dumped because they scratched a piece of furniture, pets dumped because of allergies, pets dumped because of moves, pets dumped because of human pregnancy, pets dumped because of their own pregnancy, pets dumped because they got sick, pets dumped because they shed, pets dumped because they are too expensive, pets dumped because they did not magically become trained with no effort put forth on the part of the owner, pets dumped because a new boyfriend or girlfriend did not like them, pets dumped because they got old and were not any fun anymore and pets dumped to punish a child for failure to clean their room. The vast majority of those pets are dead today. In Los Angeles, more animals leave the shelter dead than alive. This has, understandable, made most rescuers - and particularly those in places like Los Angeles - more than a little cautious about someone's good intentions.

You see, Ellen, most of those homes who dumped their pets to die started off with the same joyful enthusiasm about owning a pet. The kids were excited, Mom and Dad were excited, everybody was on the same page. The kids said they'd love the pet forever! Well, forever did not happen. Instead, those pets ended their lives on a metal table in the back room of one of those horrifically smelly Los Angeles shelters. (I am not kidding about this. Go take a walk through North Central sometime. The nasty smell will hang on your clothes til you wash them.)

And among the pets who do not get dumped, there are pets who get beaten for peeing in the house, pets who have their tails pulled and ears poked by unsupervised toddlers, pets who are lit on fire by sociopaths of various ages, pets who die on the road because no one made the slightest effort to confine or train them, pets who wind up as bait for fighting dog operations...the list goes on. The public does not often understand how widespread horrible deaths among small animals truly are. They grew up watching "Lassie" and firmly believe most dogs and cats live in these great, loving homes. Well, many do, but many do not, and you cannot tell from knowing someone socially whether or not they are a good home. How many of us have been shocked to learn a friend has ditched an animal at the shelter, someone we thought was "too nice" to do that? Or learned that someone with a Master's Degree, who should be "too smart" for this, has a cat that is not fixed shooting out unwanted kittens at an alarming rate? Most of us, I'm guessing. And of course said friend has rationalizations...because, you know, they are the only person ever to have to deal with moving with a pet, or allergy shots, or whatever, and it's just so hard and they really feel awful.

Ellen, speaking of feeling awful, may I point out that most of your post on your blog is about your feelings? I'm going to be absolutely honest with you, so listen up: No one in animal rescue cares about your feelings. They have one intent: To ensure the dog is never in peril again and lives as good a life as possible, including proper medical care, until he dies of natural causes. That is the only intent of most rescuers. That is why they are called ANIMAL rescuers, not human psychiatrists. Their only interest in you is how well you will take care of the animal. That's it. That's the goal of animal rescue. If you take great care of the animal, we don't care anything else about you. You can be in a polygamous relationship, worship trees and hold radical political beliefs, but if you keep your pets forever and take them to the vet and don't let them get dragged down the street by the UPS truck, you get five stars from us.

Ellen, you are not trained in screening adopters. I am. The ladies at Mutts & Moms are. Screening adopters is very enlightening and teaches you a great deal about human nature you would have preferred not to know. You will learn that people will lie about anything they can lie about. A family member with a conviction for animal abuse? Well gee shucks, we didn't know about that, even though it's our kid. A landlord that does not allow animals? Well, who knew that was on our lease! Golly gee. A drunken, loud, abusive family member that greets the rescuer doing the site check at the door? Damn, where did he come from? People lie to get animals, and they learn the right answers to give. They learn that they cannot say that they have ever dumped an animal at a shelter, that they should say the landlord is TOTALLY cool with that fourth cat, and that all of their animals are fixed, of course they are, the pregnant cat in the back room is just a stray they are oh-so-kindly taking care of. So, rescuers have learned to screen more carefully. We background check. We call the landlord. We ask to see the lease. Every rescue I know forbids rehoming without prior permission. This is not an unusual condition. It is absolutely standard. Some people think we're overdoing it but we take the steps we feel are necessary to protect the pet. And that's why we have a legal contract that you, the adult, must sign before you get the pet. Your hairdresser may be a great home, but you didn't give her the chance to prove that. Or perhaps you knew she'd fail the screening and therefore took matters into your own hands? We will never know.

Ellen, legal contracts are not foreign to you nor are they foreign to your girlfriend. Neither of you is a cashier from a Quik Stop in East Texas. You two sign legal contracts for every single thing you do in your professional lives and many things in your personal lives. I am sure you have a lawyer. Why did he or she not review the contract before Portia signed it if you were unclear about the terms?

The fact is, you weren't unclear. You just didn't read the contract OR you knew what was in it but you decided you knew better than the rescue and you were going to place that dog - which did not work out for you for some reason you have not disclosed, but I'm guessing it's a reason that could also cause your hairdresser to want the dog gone, it usually is. Well, Ellen, you didn't have the legal right to do so, and it was NOT the best decision for the dog to be placed in an unscreened home.

If your hairdresser wanted to adopt the dog, all you had to do was return the dog to the rescue and tell them that someone else would like to apply for ownership. Not hard. You didn't do that. Instead, you just skipped the process - much like Britney not bothering to get a California driver's license, perhaps you thought the rules did not apply to you. That was a choice. Now you have made a further choice to act like a 5 year old. You went online and trashed the rescue and whined about your hurt feelings and emotionally manipulated the public in an attempt to get the dog given back to the home you picked out for it. Well, that went a little too far. You forgot that some of your audience is crazies that sit at home all day watching daytime TV and now they are sending death threats to the rescuers. Wonderful. See, this entire situation could have been avoided if you had simply taken the time to read what I am sure is a one page contract. And if you didn't want to be bound to any terms, for god's sake get a dog off Craigslist or from the animal shelter. Again, you had a choice. If two little girls are sad today, YOU, Ellen DeGeneres, are the person who is at fault. Look in the mirror, sunshine. Nobody should have given them that dog and represented to them that it was their dog when legally it could not have been their dog. You gave them the legal equivalent of stolen property.

I've repossessed animals, and I've also taken them back - again per my contract - when the owner honestly came to me and said it wasn't working out. I just took the cat shown back this year when the owner suffered a stroke and had to go into a home. In fact, I decided to keep that one - he's a nice cat and he's already been in the actual euthanasia room once - a friend of mine pulled him at the last second for me, as I frantically texted her while at an arbitration hearing in Century City. He's not going there ever again.

The goal of responsible rescue is ensuring the animal's safety forever, not on the day you pull them from the shelter, or off the slaughter lot. You, Ellen, interfered with that goal - and you got called on it. Grow the fuck up and stop whining already.