Ellen DeGeneres in the dog house over pet adoption

Click to follow

You know the strange world of celebrity pet adoption has gone off the rails when a chat-show host bursts into tears on air, death threats start to fly, hot-shot lawyers start making nasty statements, and the whole farrago ends up on the evening news and every cable station in the land.

Welcome to America's latest non-scandal scandal, a sob story in every sense of the word featuring Ellen DeGeneres, the avowedly gay talk-show host and actress; DeGeneres's partner and fellow actress Portia de Rossi; a Brussels griffon mix terrier called Iggy; some cats; a hairdresser; and two very upset pre-teen girls.

By yesterday, even DeGeneres was telling her viewers the affair had "gotten out of hand" and pleaded for calm, much like a president begging a restive population not to take to the streets with Kalashnikovs.

To explain: DeGeneres and de Rossi decided about a month ago they wanted to adopt a rescue dog. They hooked up with an agency called Mutts & Moms, who led them to two dogs they picked up from a pet shop in Pasadena, just north of downtown Los Angeles. Neither dog got along with their cats, so they decided to return one and offered the other – Iggy – to the family of DeGeneres's hair stylist, Cheryl Marks.

Clearly, they didn't read the fine print of the adoption contract – in fact, they have since acknowledged they didn't read the fine print – because they were not legally entitled to pass the dog on to another family without the adoption agency's consent.

And that's where things started to get nasty. Mutts & Moms removed Iggy from the Marks household, to the consternation of the family's daughters, aged 11 and 12, who had formed a rapid attachment to him.

DeGeneres did what any publicity-conscious celebrity would do when she saw a wrong she felt needed to be righted: she went public, using her daytime show on Tuesday to plead for Iggy to be returned. For good measure, she burst into tears.

That was when the floodgates of indigation opened. Mutts & Moms was inundated with angry responses, including a death threat or two. Marina Batkis, who runs the agency, hired a sharp lawyer, Keith Fink, to help defend herself. By that night, she was on the evening talk-show circuit, shedding a tear or two herself as she said she had no intention of reversing her company's policy because of the bullying power of a television personality. "If Ellen wants to place dogs and decide what's a good home, then she should start her own rescue group," Ms Batkis told one show. "But I'm the one doing this and I know what I'm doing."

She said Iggy had already been reassigned, and she and her lawyer appeared intransigent about even considering the Marks family after what had happened. "Ellen is no lover of Iggy," Mr Fink told the Los Angeles Times.

Yesterday, DeGeneres said: "I want nothing more than that dog returned to that family." She did have some stern words about the death threats, however.

"You don't resort to violence," she said. "So anybody out there, please stop that. Please don't threaten or do whatever."