Dolly the dolphin died of a broken heart. At least that's how Malcolm Brenner sees it.
Some would call Brenner, who had sex with Dolly more than four decades ago, a pervert or an animal abuser or, at the very least, a damaged man. But to this day, Brenner, who is now the subject of a documentary, describes the encounter as a beautiful, almost spiritual experience.
The two met in 1970 when the New College of Florida student was on his first freelance photography assignment. He was supposed to take pictures for a book about Sarasota's Floridaland—one of those hokey roadside attractions that populated the Sunshine State before multimillion-dollar theme parks pushed them out. Soon, however, he was sidetracked by the dolphin.
Dolly swam to the other side of the tank when the unfamiliar human with horn-rimmed glasses and shoulder-length curls first jumped in. She eventually came around, says Brenner, who photographed the dolphin for nine months. Once, as he was rubbing her back, Dolly flipped over to present her genital slit. Later, she started rubbing her teeth on the photographer's arm in what he describes as an erotic way. When he wouldn't give her what she wanted, Dolly would retaliate by pushing him 12 feet underwater.
"Female dolphins are very assertive about their sexuality," Brenner told me. "They don't have any inhibitions about expressing it, whereas other animals are passive, or at least just receptive."
In his telling, Brenner has always been attracted to animals. As a child, he says, he was molested by his psychologist. Around the same time, his dad took him to see a Disney film called The Shaggy Dog. He got an erection even though he was only five, which he now calls a defining moment of his life. His zoophilia started in earnest a few years later; when he was 11 or 12, Brenner had sex with the family poodle, although he says he felt dirty afterward.
But it was his second and final encounter with an animal—the one that took place with Dolly at Floridaland—that ended up making Brenner the unofficial spokesperson for the people who think animals can consent to sex. And for the first time, he's telling his story on screen with the help of Miami filmmakers Joey Daoud and Kareem Tabsch. Dolphin Lover, their 15-minute short, just premiered at Slamdance on January 25.
Tabsch first became interested in Brenner when he was in San Francisco in 2013 looking for entertainment options and an alt weekly story about the dolphin lover grabbed his eye. "I stopped looking for things to do and started reading the story," he told me. "I was taken aback equally by what had happened and by his willingness to talk about it."
Soon he and Daoud met up with Brenner on Florida's west coast and conducted an extensive four-hour interview that covered essentially his entire life. "His only stipulation was that we didn't use the Flipper theme song in the movie," Daoud told me.
Although Brenner had written a fictional version of his and Dolly's relationship in 2009, he'd never openly talked about how exactly he did the deed. According to his account in the documentary, Dolly was alone in the pool with another male dolphin but voluntarily came to a different area to have privacy with her suitor. After about 30 minutes of foreplay, Brenner penetrated the animal's vaginal cavity, which he described as a series of complicated valves.
It was a difficult act to perform (he had to position himself vertically, while the dolphin was horizontal), but Brenner describes the experience as both gentle and erotic. "I felt this intense verging with her on every level," he says in the movie. "It's really like we stopped being two individual creatures and became one creature that became one with itself." He claims both he and the dolphin came.
After their encounter, Brenner moved to Olympia, Washington, and Dolly was shipped off to a different park in Mississippi. He was informed later that she committed suicide, and to this day, Brenner thinks it's because he "abandoned her," as he puts it in the film.
He's not the only person to fall in love with a dolphin. There was also Margaret Lovatt, who ended up having sex with an animal named Peter during a NASA-funded experiment in the 60s. That animal also committed suicide after its relationship with a human ended.
One aspect that's notably missing from Dolphin Lover is input from a psychologist, who might explain whether dolphins can consent to sex, experience orgasms, or feel sad enough over a "breakup" that they'd end their lives.
Originally, the filmmakers planned to splice in interviews with animals rights activists and other people, but decided against it. "The story we wanted to tell was the experience as he recalls it," Daoud told me. "What [experts] were going to say was the norm for the average viewer. I hope what the movie shows is that behind acts we may not agree upon are human beings."
Today, Brenner lives in West Florida, and even though he's most famous for fucking a dolphin, he managed to marry twice after "training" himself to like women. He even has a grown daughter.
He says he's not in a relationship and hasn't had sex with an animal since Dolly. He's waiting for the day the zoophiles will be as accepted as gays, although he thinks it will take a long time. He also claims not to understand why people have a problem with his proclivities when they can accept the character Brian from Family Guy. "The same people who are calling me a monster are laughing at Seth McFarlane's jokes about a dog sleeping with women," he told me.
But Brenner is undeterred by public perception and claims to be active on a number of dating sites.
He says he's not worried about the documentary, or for being recognized as the public face of animal fucking. Apparently, there are other obstacles to meeting and courting women.
"I don't find a lot of women who are atheists down here," he says. "But I just signed up for an atheist dating service, so hopefully that will change."
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