Obituary for a good dog

May 19th, 2015

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Died: Pixel, beloved canine companion of author Malcolm J. Brenner, from natural causes due to old age, in the early hours of May 18, 2015.  Born in early August, 2001, Pixel was thus some 13 years and 9 months old when she passed away, making her about 100 years old in human terms.

Brenner obtained Pixel from a stranger who was giving away puppies from the back of an old white Ford pickup truck in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Grants, N.M.  No money changed hands.  “Pixel was the only dog in the litter whose tail hadn’t been docked, which made her more attractive to me,” Brenner said.  “That, and she also happened to be female.”

The stranger claimed Pixel’s father was a Rottweiler and her mother a German shepherd, “but he lied,” Brenner said.  “Pixel’s dense, luxurious fur marked her almost certainly as a shepherd-collie mix.”

Pixel displayed an early interest in canine psychology.  “When I brought her a companion dog, it had been the runt of the litter and was frightened and aggressive,” Brenner said.  “It snapped at Pixel and wanted to bite her, but she ran up and down the room, going right by it so fast the smaller dog couldn’t connect.  In 15 minutes, Pixel had that little dog playing with her, and I named her Pugsley.  They were firm friends for life.”

Ah hell, I can’t maintain this obituary format any longer.  What can I say about a dog who was also my lover?  Who is now buried in a hole in the back yard?  Pixel, I loved you and I wish things could have been better for you.  I wish Pugsley had lived longer to remain your companion into your old age, I think you would have enjoyed it more.  I gave you the best life I could within my means, Pixel, I sure hope you enjoyed it.

What I liked about Pixel was that she had an independent mind.  Perhaps this is just another way of saying I didn’t train her well enough, but I actually liked the fact that she didn’t always do my bidding, even though it was frustrating at times.

I hated the times I had to leave her to travel, especially the three weeks I spent out in San Francisco over Christmas 2013.  I know it was hard on her.  I thank my friend Cay Small for all the dog sitting services she has provided over the years.

Last night we went for a walk in the early evening, like we did every night.  She was slow and doddering, but that was normal for a dog her age.  After I went to bed she began to pace around nervously.  I woke up around 2 a.m. to find her agitated and restless, and I stayed up with her as she wandered here and there.  I began to suspect she was looking for a place to die.  She lay down in a corner of the trailer, and I went back to bed around 4 a.m.  When I woke up at 6:30 she was gone and had been for some time.

I spent two hours this morning digging her grave in my back yard, close to where I buried Pugsley a few years ago.  Pixel, please know that you were loved and cherished, and you will always remain in my memory my first dog.

SeaWorld’s sick, sick “love”

May 12th, 2015

 

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(Photo: A killer whale at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, circa 1972. ©Malcolm J. Brenner)

Have you ever known a couple that fought about everything?  I used to know a couple like that.  Every day was a string of arguments, from dawn ’til dusk, voices raised in shouting.  They could never agree about the simplest thing, and being around them when they were together was like having sandpaper rubbed on your body.

The cure for this problem seemed obvious.  We, their friends, would say “Why do you two stick together?  You should go your separate ways.”  Their response was always, “But we LOVE each other!”  Followed by more shouting.

What kind of love not only causes pain and anguish, but refuses to acknowledge the damage that pain and anguish is doing?  I’ll tell you what kind of love: sick, psychotic love.  My two friends loved each other the way SeaWorld loves its killer whales.

SeaWorld says it “loves” its killer whales and treats them well.  One could have heard such protestations from a slaveholder in the Antebellum South: “I love my slaves and I treat them well!  Mine are the best-treated slaves around!”  The problem then, of course, was not the way the slaveholder treated his slaves, for better or for worse, the problem was the institution of slavery itself.  And of course, a slaveholder must be blind to the moral pestilence that slavery creates.  Men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington anguished over the issue; they could not maintain their lifestyle without slavery, yet they knew it was an injustice.  Great as they were, they kicked the can down the road, leaving it to Abraham Lincoln’s generation to fight America’s bloodiest war to end that evil institution, such as it has.

Of course, SeaWorld is not an individual.  SeaWorld is a corporation with a bottom line which is money, and any statements to the contrary must be taken with a pound of salt.  But what does it say about the individuals, like senior corporate affairs officer Jill Kermes?  “We love these animals, and do everything in our power to assure they’re happy and healthy,” Kermes recently said in a press release.

Everything, of course, except set them free.

The example of my friends, the argumentative couple, isn’t exactly what SeaWorld is all about.  After all, the whales aren’t arguing; they just want to go home.  The deep and profound pathology of SeaWorld’s “love” for whales is actually closer to that of Ariel Castro, the psychopath who kidnapped three women in Cleveland, Ohio, kept them for 10 years and had a child by one of them, Amanda Berry.  When he was finally captured, after the women escaped, here’s what Castro said for himself, according to Wikipedia:

Before his sentencing, Castro addressed the court in a rambling address for twenty minutes, in which he said he was “a good person” and “not a monster”, but that he was addicted to sex and pornography, and had “practiced the art of masturbation” from a young age. He claimed that he had never beaten or tortured the women, and insisted that “most” of the sex he had with them “was consensual.” He shifted between an apologetic tone and blaming the FBI for failing to catch him, as well as his victims themselves, insisting to the court that when he had sex with them he discovered they were not virgins. He would alternatively shift back into apologetic comments, saying: “I hope they can find in their hearts to forgive me because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home.”

“We had a lot of harmony going on in that home” is the delusion of a psychopath who either cannot feel for his victims or has managed to suppress his feelings.  In Castro’s eyes he is not a monster and the sex was “consensual” because the women were not virgins and did not physically resist.  Make no mistake, the people who run SeaWorld and their poor deluded minions, the trainers, feel exactly the same way.   They even force the female whales to produce babies for them, exactly as Castro did.

What does watching a whale jump around at SeaWorld teach you about killer whales in the wild?  Zip.  What does it do for whales in the wild?  It actually has a negative impact, because it increases the demand for whales in captivity, which means more wild whales are going to be rounded up and caught in horrible drive hunts.  The Southern Resident orca population of Washington State, which was most heavily fished in the 1960’s and ’70’s for captive whales, has yet to recover from those captures, several of which resulted in the deaths of the whales.

I wonder what it will take for SeaWorld to realize the error of its ways.  Human death?  No.  Trainers, let’s face it, are expendable.  Not even the horrific death of Dawn Brancheau, torn to pieces in 2010 by Tilikum, SeaWorld’s prize breeding bull, was enough; SeaWorld tried to blame Brancheau herself, claiming that her ponytail (which was fine in SeaWorld’s trainer regulations) had floated into the whale’s mouth, and that he “playfully” pulled her into the water before breaking her back, scalping and dismembering her.

We’re not just talking about some personal peculiarities here; we’re talking about an institution which is built on lies, and now finds out it must lie about lying to the public, as SeaWorld is doing in its latest series of promotions.  Five class-action lawsuits have been filed by various people who feel SeaWorld deceived them about its treatment of the whales.

With millions of dollars at stake, of course SeaWorld is going to defend itself.  It has lowered itself to the point of personal slander to do so, as in the case of John Hargrove, former chief killer whale trainer and author of the tell-all book Beneath The Surface.  What will it take, I wonder, to open their corporate eyes to the tragedy and the horror they are committing?

I wish I could throw some SeaWorld officers, like the CEO, into the pool with Tilikum.  Then let’s see how long their commitment to keeping killer whales in captivity would last.

Book Review: “Wet Goddess”

May 3rd, 2015

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Book Review Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover

Author Malcolm J. Brenner takes his readers on a journey through the labyrinth of liberal arts major Zachary Zimmerman’s adventures of college campus life and his first professional photography job.  Influenced by drugs, primal sexual needs, rock ‘n’ roll and various precarious relationships, Zack maneuvers through these life experiences while photographing the seemingly near-human and intelligent bottlenose dolphins at Florida Funland.  One exceptional dolphin named Ruby entices him to explore the uncharted regions of her wet world.

When Zack’s relationship with Ruby beckons him to abandon his humanness in the attempt to bond with her telepathically, physically and psychologically, he finds himself caught between the worlds of fantasy and reality.  This puts him on a collision course, risking the near-fracture of his human psyche.

Zack’s journey culminates with the abrupt end of his relationship with Ruby, his quest to find her again, and his return to reality and society.  He struggles to overcome his emotional torture and endure the stigma of sharing his story. Ultimately, Zack come to terms with the mind- altering experience and how it profoundly affected his life.

Carolyn Marts, Carolyn Marts Photography, Florida

Book review: “Beneath the Surface”

April 22nd, 2015

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John Hargrove is a man who got religion, then lost it.  The spirit moved him when he was six and his parents took him to SeaWorld.  Then and there, little John decided he wanted to become an orca trainer when he grew up.  And, amazingly, he did.  After 14 years, his body broken, his spirit wounded, Hargrove got out of the business of enslaving the creatures he loved.  Beneath the Surface is his memoir of that experience and the conflict he suffered, the inner turmoil that comes when the corporate gods don’t answer your reasonable prayers.

One thing we learn from this book is that SeaWorld’s managers are cheap bastards.  As a “senior orca trainer,” a physically and mentally demanding job working with huge, dangerous animals, Hargrove earned the rotten salary of $15.34 an hour.  He did it, he says, because he loved the whales, and his love for them shows in this book.  Hargrove was so familiar with the whales, he was able to tell their emotions just from reading their muscle tension.  As an trainer, he bought whole-heartedly into the SeaWorld mythology that captivity is somehow better for whales than being wild in the ocean.

Hargrove’s book is eye-opening, a revelation about the conditions orcas in captivity are forced to endure.  Some of the whales break their teeth biting the bars of their cages in sheer frustration; others, bored to tears, literally peel paint off the walls of their tanks, bloodying their snouts in the process.  Chlorine and ozone added to purify the chemical soup they swim in burn not only the orcas’ eyes but the trainers’ too.  Whales from different regions battle for dominance among themselves.

For Hargrove, a man with a conscience, the break with SeaWorld management seems to have begun when he was asked to artificially inseminate female whales.  SeaWorld was using its females to breed more orcas, both for its own use and to supply other parks, and they were inseminating the females too often and too young, Hargrove says, then taking the babies away from their mothers when they were weaned.  In the wild, killer whales form family groups that extend over several generations, and a male’s attachment to his mother is so strong that he may wither and die shortly after she does.  Hargrove protested, but his protests went nowhere.  The whales’ welfare was not the bottom line.

The break grew when two trainers, Alex Martinez at SeaWorld affiliate Loro Parque, and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando, were killed by whales within a few months of each other.  Predictably, SeaWorld promoted the myth that the deaths were somehow the trainers’ faults.  No wild orca has ever attacked a human, and Hargrove is quick to rebut his former employer by pointing out how the confined conditions of captivity essentially drive the whales into frustration and aggression against each other and their trainers.

I would recommend this honest, open and affecting book to anybody with an interest in marine mammals’ welfare.  Since it was published, SeaWorld has tried to launch a mammoth personal attack on Hargrove by releasing tapes of him using the N-word when he was drunk one night with a duplicitous friend.  Hargrove makes his opinions on racism clear early in the book, when he denounces the KKK, which operated near his hometown as he was growing up.  Fortunately the attack seems to have failed, and the book is high on the New York Times book list.  With good reason; Beneath the Surface is John Hargrove’s confessional.

 

Howard blows.

March 19th, 2015

So the illustrious Howard Stern had me on his show yesterday, and in retrospect it wasn’t a fun thing.  My friends are telling me I did well under enormous pressure, but I don’t feel that way. I felt frankly embarrassed by Stern’s questions like “Would you rather have sex with a horse or a cow?  A giraffe, or a kangaroo?”

As my FaceBook friend Grandwazoo Blair suggested, my best comeback would have been “How about your new wife, Howard?” (Rimshot!)  But I have never been quick-witted enough to come up with remarks like that.

No, I have not gone back and listened to the interview on YouTube, so this post is made from memory.

The tug-o’-war in these interviews always seems to be between the interviewer’s wanting me to talk about my zoophilia and my desire to talk about dolphins and the situation they are in.  In Stern’s case this was worse than most.  My correspondents seemed to think I did well getting my points in, but Stern pretty much glossed over them in his desire to classify me as some kind of pathological personality.

I would think that given the double rarity of a man who made love with a dolphin and is willing to talk about it on air, Stern would have explored the whole experience a little more carefully, but he didn’t seem really interested.

Said my sister, Sally Hammerman: Just listened to the show!  You were great – even with the prodding to get you inflamed!  I objected to the over-talk when you were saying something – which I wanted to hear and also which I feel was something relevant to the question that was posed to you.  And then that crazy woman on the phone! She didn’t get ANY of it – and probably kicks her dog, too. LOVE YA’

Said my friend Dieno: Just fantastic.  You were a sensation.  You did not let him put you down.  You ruled the show!

Well, I have picked up a few new FB friends since doing the show, so perhaps it didn’t go as badly as I thought it did.  What do  you think?

Howard Stern Show, anyone?

March 14th, 2015

Image: Howard Stern

(Photo: hitfix.com)

For those of you reading this with Sirius XM radio, I will be a guest on the Howard Stern Show on Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 a.m. EDST.  It seems like my appearance in Dolphin Lover is gaining me some notoriety that simply publishing Wet Goddess did not.  The producer I spoke with assured me that Howard would most likely watch the movie, and the film’s producers provided him with the means to do so.

Interestingly enough, Howard had another guy on several years ago who claimed to have had sex with a dolphin.  I’d include the file here, but I might be violating copyright by doing so and the last thing I want to do is piss off a guy who’s going to be interviewing me about my sex life.  I think the subject was totally bogus; for one thing, he wanted to be anonymous, but one of the listeners called in and identified him!  There were also, shall we say, certain anatomical discrepancies with my own experience in his description of the act.  Altogether it was a rather unconvincing, if sincere, performance.  Let’s hope I can do better!

Hawk calls

February 23rd, 2015
Male red-shouldered hawk offers female a prey item, a frog.

Male red-shouldered hawk offers female a prey item, a frog.


I haven’t written anything for a while, so here’s a red-shouldered hawk establishing its territory with a call from a neighbor’s tree. I recorded this on my iPhone while walking the dog one morning; you may have to turn the volume up to hear the hawk clearly. There’s about 13 seconds of silence after the hawk.  It is wonderful to hear this first thing in the morning! (The photo above is a pair of these hawks that have taken up residence in a tree down the street.  I was lucky enough to capture this one really good shot out of more than 80 I took of them that day.)

Surfing the waves of publicity

February 6th, 2015

As seen from time to time, in photos I do not have permission to link to here, dolphins love to surf.  Their specialty is body surfing, of course, which I have also done from time to time.  As I wrote about in the ending of Wet Goddess, bodysurfing on storm tides while tripping on hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms is about as close as I’ve come to experiencing what it must be like to be a dolphin.  (I do not recommend it as a safe way to get healthy exercise, however.)

That ride’s raw physical dynamics are sort of equivalent to the emotional roller coaster I’m on right now, seeing my name and image plastered all over the Web with the phenomenal interest in the short film Dolphin Lover.  The exposure makes me rather uncomfortable, as I am by nature a shy and introverted person.  I knew when I first conceived of publishing my story that I would pretty much have to ‘fess up to being a zoophile, because people would just assume it from the theme and plot of the story, and I would rather, as they say, be blatant than latent.  And I certainly have done a lot of radio interviews in the past, ranging from sympathetic to skeptical to inquisitorial.

But nothing prepared me for what happens when somebody puts together a narrative on film, that the cable shows and the blog sites can use to convey a moving image and sound.  Suddenly my likeness is being broadcast everywhere.  I feel like the fireman Montag in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451.  I want to keep my shades on, even inside stores.

One of the top mentions has been on the People.com web site.  One of the top interviews so far has been on the Mike Calta Show on 102.5 “The Bone.”

Dolphin Lover producer Joey Daoud also tells me he is surprised by how fast this film has spread through the popular culture.  Meanwhile, Wet Goddess itself is selling quite well, as much in a day as I was selling in a week last month.  I am waiting for flashback from the religious and possibly scientific community as well, as my story now seems to be impossible to ignore.

Here’s one of my own pics of a dolphin surfing in a boat’s stern wake.  It’s not a pod of dolphins in a huge breaker in the clear water off Waikiki, but it is mine and I’m happy to use it.  When you think of me, this is it, surfing the waves of publicity.

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Of floof and beer cans.

January 31st, 2015

This is an essay about territory and how we mark it, so how appropriate that it opens with a dog.  As some of you may know, I have a companion named Pixel, whom I have owned, loved and cared for since she was about 8 weeks old.  Pixel is a mixed breed mutt, but just exactly what her lineage is I’m not sure.  The man who was giving away the puppies from the back of the old Ford pickup truck told me she was Rottweiler and German shepherd, and that sounded like a good combo to me, as they would both be metric dogs.  I picked Pixel from a batch of eight because she was the only dog who hadn’t had her tail docked.  When I asked the man why not, he could only answer “I don’t know.” He was not a loquacious fellow, so as you can see some questions about her lineage and ancestry remain.

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What I have been able to confirm is that the bastard lied, there’s not a drop of Rottie blood in Pixel!  Rather, as you can see for yourself above, the enormous quantity of her long and silky fur leads inescapably to the conclusion that she is a mix of German shepherd and some other longhair breed, most likely collie.

When she sheds twice yearly, Pixel produces amounts of undercoat that are not merely amazing but alarming.   My ex-housemate Cay jokingly dubbed this dense-as-felt fur floof.  What makes the situation worse is that the dog is disinclined to let me brush her to the extent necessary to keep her coat in order.  To keep her groomed, I have taken to plucking the fur from her at odd moments.  She usually tolerates this up until she turns around and mouths the offending hand, at which point I quit.

What to do with the leftover lumps of floof is not a problem indoors, I simply throw them in the kitchen trash can along with other non-recyclable items.  (I did at one point investigate the possibility of having Pixel’s floof made into something wearable, like a scarf, but a local weaver I consulted told me the fibers weren’t quite long enough.)  But it was what I did with the floof I plucked off Pixel when we were outside, on our twice-daily walks, that caused me to re-think my behavior.

On these walks I often, in fact always, notice the trash that my neighbors throw out alongside the road, most frequently beer cans and occasionally bottles, wrappers and bags.  The occasional dirty diaper is not unknown.  I live by choice in a rural, low-density, low-traffic neighborhood, so such visual pollution is all the more obnoxious to me.  You might argue that the landscape is already despoiled with Brazilian pepper and Australian pines, and I would not be able to argue with you, but I would ask, why add further to its ruination with trash?

Given as I am to over-analyzing everything, I wondered at the motives of those who throw their beer cans out the window.  This road is a dead-end loop, so whoever the beer can throwers are must live here, they are not passing through.  I know they are residents because, even though I pick up the beer cans, new ones appear with great frequency and regularity.

Of course, one motive to get rid of your beer can back here is to do so before you reach the main road, which is more frequently patrolled by our stalwart Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.  This applies if you were drinking when you left home.  But were there not other, possibly even unconscious motives?

What, I wondered, if tossing a beer can out the window of a passing pickup truck was like a dog lifting its leg to piss on a fire hydrant or tree trunk, a way of marking or delineating territory?  After all, if I can dump my trash in your territory with impunity, then in a sense, don’t I own it?  It’s a childish act of subversion, a disruptive intrusion into the common visual space we all must share.  Aluminum beer cans take anywhere from 200-500 years to decompose.  When I pick them up on our walks and take them home, I recycle them along with most of the rest of my waste stream.

I always felt morally superior to the knuckle-dragging redneck louts who despoiled my precious environment with their beer cans.  I wanted to give them a piece of my mind; in fact, some days I wanted to feed them a knuckle sandwich.  To clean their proverbial clocks.  Usually I just pick up the cans and remind myself to pick my battles carefully, I have to live with these people after all.  In fact, I’m in the dark as to which of my neighbors it might be, there’s about two dozen dwellings on this loopy street.  I keep theorizing it’s primarily one repeat offender, but I don’t know for sure.

Then, while I was out one day, something other than beer cans caught my eye.  It was a large clump of Pixel’s floof that I had removed from her coat… several weeks before.  Maybe even a few months.  A long time, at any rate, far longer than anything organic had a right to exist untouched.  It was wet and dirty but intact.  The proteins that make up hair must be incredibly durable and stable, as nothing seems to break them down!

As I continued on my walks I began to notice more and more clumps of fur that I had pulled out of Pixel and left strewn around the neighborhood as tell-tale indicators of our passing.  They were not decaying.  They were not being used by birds to line their nests.  They were not magically disappearing.  Weren’t they really just as obnoxious as the beer cans?  In spite of the fact that they were organic, rather than metallic, I was forced to conclude that they were every bit just as much of an eyesore and a pollutant to the environment!

Worse yet, I had to admit that I was just as much under the influence of an unconscious need to litter as the guy with the beer cans.  I too needed to mark my territory, I just did it with something soft and fuzzy rather than cold and hard.  I felt a distressing sense of moral equivalency.

With this realization, I began to pick up what remaining pieces of floof I could, along with the beer cans and bottles.  I can report the neighborhood looks a little better, and my sense of moral superiority has returned.  After all, I don’t see the rednecks getting out of their Chevy S10’s to pick up their beer cans!  I have learned a valuable lesson about self-righteousness: It doesn’t matter if it’s warm, fuzzy and organic if you’re making a mess with it!

 

“Dolphin Lover” well-received!

January 26th, 2015

I just got off the phone with Kareem Tabsch, director of the documentary short “Dolphin Lover” about my experience with Dolly the dolphin, and I feel a sense of relief.  Before the premiere Kareem said he was very nervous,  but on the whole he was very pleased with the response, and so am I.  The audience at the Slamdance Film Festival took the film really well.  “There were no walkouts,” he told me.  People laughed at the funny parts and were quiet in the serious ones.  There was a 10-minute question and answer period after the film (technically a video) where people asked a lot of questions; it ended with many hands still raised and questions unanswered, he said.  After the showing a couple of people buttonholed him to talk about it.

I look forward to being able to see “Dolphin Lover” with an audience some time, maybe at a Florida film festival somewhere.