Playing with Dolly

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Words || Rhiannon Williams 

Content warning: Mention of suicide

The 1960s and ‘70s are known as a time of liberality and the enthusiastic embrace of sex, drugs and free love – all that fun, hippie-related debauchery. For photographer, author and zoophile Malcolm Brenner, The Summer of Love marked the beginning of his story of star-crossed, interspecies love.

Brenner was in his early twenties in the summer of 1971. A Liberal Arts student at New College, Florida, he was academically focused on photography and journalism. He was a stoner, and still is. He is also a man who was romantically and sexually involved with a dolphin: an experience he has written a book about.

While at college, Brenner was employed at the once-popular Floridaland, an aquatic theme park near Sarasota. Here, he was tasked with photographing the dolphins for an upcoming book. It was also here that he met and fell in love with Dolly the dolphin.

Brenner began working on the resulting book, Wet Goddess, in 1973, soon after his experience with Dolly. It remained unpublished until 2010; it was 37 years in the making. Although there would be a market for this sort of content in the most obscure corners of the internet, Brenner maintains that he wrote it for dolphins, not for zoophiles (people who experience attraction towards animals). It was his attempt at immortalising his dolphin lover, and venerating the intellectual capacity of her brothers and sisters.

Brenner knew he was a zoophile long before he met Dolly. He says he first knew his sexuality was not ‘normal’ as a five-year-old when he saw the 1959 Disney film Shaggy Dog. Following this was his first sexual encounter, as an 11 or 12-year-old, with the female family dog. A regrettable and apparently humiliating decision, because ‘she wasn’t really into it’. After this it was just a bit of casual masturbation of the family’s male dog. Brenner jokingly assured me that this was because the dog’s arousal was so exciting to him as a young teenager, rather than it being because he’s gay; ‘I’m not attracted to men, or male animals, the way I am to women. So, while I may be a zoophile, thank the gods I’m not gay, huh?’ An interesting joke.

Since then, he had tried to suppress his zoophilic tendencies and maintain a degree of normality. That is, until he met Dolly. He tried to communicate with her verbally, and also states that they communicated with one another telepathically. He acknowledges that the amount of pot he was smoking may have been a contributing factor in these interactions. Nonetheless, he maintains that nothing like this had ever happened before, or since, despite his avid use of marijuana. He also informed me of multiple other reports of people, mostly dolphin trainers, who claimed to have telepathically communicated with their aquatic students. This included Ric O’Barry, who trained the dolphins in the 1964 TV series, Flipper. I couldn’t find a single article where O’Barry acknowledged this, but who knows?

They flirted, Brenner took photos, and he and Dolly supposedly fell in love. Brenner had tried unsuccessfully to have sex with her early on in the relationship, and became a bit deterred. However, through their psychic communications, she told him she wanted them to try again. And they eventually did, in an apparently magical, consensual experience. However, everything soon fell apart with the bankruptcy and closure of Floridaland and the subsequent selling of the dolphins, and the separation of the star-crossed lovers. Brenner transferred to Evergreen State College for a year, after which he learned that Dolly had died. She had committed suicide. Brenner believes it was from a broken heart.

After Dolly, Brenner again devoted himself to maintaining a normal sexuality. That is, until 2000, when he purchased a German Shepherd named Pixel, who he soon became quite close with. Throughout all this time, Brenner has been married twice and has an adult daughter now, who designed the cover of Wet Goddess as well as the covers of his other books.

Brenner believes the contention surrounding interspecies sex is a result of humanity’s belief that we are intellectually superior to every other creature. However, there is also the question of whether animals can give consent. A question a lot of people have asked in this situation is, ‘why didn’t she just swim away?’ Brenner is sure she could have – a 400-pound dolphin could easily do so. She could just as easily drown you. The water is not an area of human domination. ‘It’s like being in a cage with a bear or a tiger,’  Brenner says. Nonetheless, contention remains.

In 2015 an award-winning documentary about Brenner was released titled Dolphin Lover. In this, he tried to explain the origins of his zoophilia, attributing it to the physical and sexual abuse he suffered in early childhood at the hands of his therapist, Albert Duvall. Duvall was a student of Wilhelm Reich, a controversial psychoanalyst whose ideas focused on ‘orgone energy’, a non-existent sexual power. His practice was aimed at assisting his patients in achieving orgasm. Basically, he was a sex-crazed psychoanalyst who massaged his naked patients and believed the Earth was under attack from UFOs. Brenner’s parents were fervent believers in Duvall’s work. Brenner identified the sanctity he found in animals in terms of his sexual desires, and whether or not this was a result of biology or childhood trauma remains unclear.

Brenner has said that the whole experience with Dolly was life-changing, and shook him to his core. The years that followed were traumatic and confusing. He’s obviously received varying critiques, but he believes that if no one is confronted by what he has written, then there would be no point in writing it. Brenner is currently retired, living off his social security and the sales of his books, which spiked in the past few months after his review of Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning film, The Shape of Water, published by Huffington Post.

Zoophilia remained legal in Florida until 2011, and is still legal in 14 US states, as well as many of other countries throughout the world. This includes Japan, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Russia and Cuba. I asked Brenner about his current practices, but considering the fact that it’s now illegal, he didn’t want to say anything incriminating. However, he did also straight-up admit he hasn’t stopped being a zoophile, as his pet dog walked past his webcam.

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