Ellen Degeneres and Iggy the “It”

On October 16, popular U.S. entertainer Ellen DeGeneres told her talk-show audience–and the world–that she adopted a dog, Iggy, in September. She claimed that Iggy did not get along with her cats, so she gave him to her hairdresser, who has two daughters who wanted him. This apparently violated the adoption contract used by the rescue group, Mutts and Moms, from which Ms. DeGeneres adopted Iggy, because the contract apparently required that she return him to them if she no longer wanted him. The rescue group took Iggy from the hairdresser’s home. Ms. DeGeneres broke down and sobbed as she made a plea that Mutts and Moms return the dog to her hairdresser’s children.

The “Iggy” story has generated an incredible media storm that has occupied American “news” reporting for the past several days, with virtually every major news show featuring the story. According to the lawyer for Mutts and Moms, the adoption group received death threats and the lawyer played phone messages in which a DeGeneres spokeswoman threatened legal action and bad publicity if Iggy were not returned to Ms. DeGeneres’ hairdresser.

The most recent news is that Mutts and Moms has placed Iggy with another family. I am happy that things have apparently worked out for little Iggy.

I understand the concerns of rescue groups, such as Mutts and Moms. There are some people who adopt animals and who then dump them on a roadside or at a shelter that may kill them, or take them to a vet to be killed, because they no longer want the animal. There are even some people who have sold adopted animals into biomedical research. Over the years of working as a lawyer on issues concerning nonhumans, I have dealt with many rescue groups who were trying to work out language in adoption contracts that protected the animal while not making the contract so difficult and intrusive that potential adopters refused to sign and just headed off to the pet stores to buy a dog, cat, or other nonhuman.

For example, I recall several instances where rescue groups had a clause in their contracts that gave them the right to come into the adopter’s home at any time, day or night, 365 days a year, to see if the animal was being properly cared for even if they had no cause to believe otherwise. There are very few potential adopters who will agree to such a condition. There needs to be a balance between protecting the animals and getting homes for the hundreds of thousands of animals who need them. On the Petfinder website alone, there are 265,000 animals as of today who need homes. The problem is enormous.

In the DeGeneres case, there is probably blame on both sides. I think that Ms. DeGeneres acted badly in not doing what was necessary to get Iggy and her cats to get along. Ms. DeGeneres lives in Los Angeles and has the means and access to someone like Cesar Millan, who surely could have helped in this regard. And, if she were intent on getting rid of Iggy, I do not understand why she could not have first notified Mutts and Moms to facilitate the transfer to her hairdresser. On the other hand, I do not understand why Mutts and Moms reacted in an apparently peevish way and took Iggy from the hairdresser’s family on some matter of principle. If Iggy was in a good home, then, given the millions of nonhumans who need homes, it would have been better to leave him there and focus energy on the others. And I am absolutely disgusted that anyone who claims to care about nonhumans would make death threats or any threats of violence to Mutts and Moms.

I was, however, struck that Ms. DeGeneres constantly referred to Iggy as “it.” Why was she referring to a “him” as an “it,” particularly since she claimed, in talking about the Iggy story, that “I love animals. I love animals.”

So I started reading the various pages of Ms. DeGeneres’ website and found that she actually has an almost daily report of what her personal chef, Sean, makes for her lunch.

The menu includes:

  • “pole caught Columbia River salmon lightly salted and pan-fried”;
  • “grass fed, organic, free range New York steak”;
  • “beautifully seasoned chicken thigh fried for color and then braised in the oven with fresh figs and onions”;
  • “poached seafood platter with shrimp, crab, scallops and lobster”;
  • “delicious Cod Au Gratin. A classic dish of North East Atlantic cod, oven poached in a béchamel sauce with organic Canadian Cheddar and breadcrumbs and then broiled for just long enough to get the cheese perfectly gooey”;
  • “beautiful Colorado rack of lamb after separating the chops and frenching the bone”;
  • “organic chicken salad sandwich with walnuts, celery, cranberries and alfalfa sprouts on 14 grain bread”;
  • “organically grown free-range local breast of chicken Milanese (when I say local, I mean that I think the chicken might have been my neighbor.) The breast is pounded, then breaded, then fried for color and finished in the oven with tomato basil sauce, mozzarella cheese and just a little parmesan”

(Her “neighbor”?);

  • “oven-roasted pork loin stuffed with cranberries, onion, celery, pistachios and whole grain breadcrumbs drizzled with port wine and shallot reduction”;
  • “petit filet mignon with a delightful basil butter sauce”;
  • “zesty albacore tuna salad garnished with avocados and a tangy, creamy vinaigrette”;
  • “salad grown from my office garden with some lemon chicken I grilled on my desk top grill,” a spinach salad “topped off, as you can see, with a scoop of tuna caught from a flock that was just starting to swim south for the winter”; and
  • a “lovely tuna salad, which is surrounded by delicious hot house tomato slices.”

And that’s just what is on the site as of today. We can only speculate about what animal bodies and secretions Sean has in store for the coming months.

I find it absolutely fascinating and somewhat bizarre that the public cares about what Ms. DeGeneres eats for lunch, or that at least she thinks that is the case. But, more importantly, I am bewildered that she can get on national television and sob about Iggy, but not give a damn about all of the sentient, consciously aware nonhumans that Sean is preparing for her lunch.

Ms. DeGeneres obviously cares about nonhumans on some level. But there is something wrong here.

Perhaps a clue to her moral schizophrenia is provided by her repeated use of “it” to describe Iggy. In the end, nonhumans are just things—”its.” On one level, she recognizes that Iggy has attributes of personhood. But she is sobbing over an “it,” not really different from the other “its” that she thinks it acceptable to exploit.

Ellen DeGeneres is obviously not a stupid person. Why can’t she make the connection?

Come on Ellen, go vegan.

Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione