Book review: “Uniquely Dangerous” by Carreen Maloney

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Book Review: Uniquely Dangerous by Carreen Maloney. Published by the author.

By Malcolm J. Brenner

Every so often a non-fiction book comes along which threatens to expose the common wisdom about its subject for the misconception it really is. In my own life, I can think of only a few books that have had this profound effect on me. Growing up in the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement, one was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-authored by Alex Haley; another was Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver’s short but damning tale of incarceration, Soul on Ice.

I mention these two books because they come most readily to mind, not because I want to make race an issue. The subject of Uniquely Dangerous is an Anglo man, not a person of color, and a privileged Anglo man at that, who rose to wealth and renown while concealing a dark secret from everyone around him, including those he loved.

His name was Doug Spink, and if that sounds vaguely familiar, you have a long memory for the perverse and obscure. It hearkens back to a 2010 raid by a multi-agency taskforce of 30 people on a tiny cabin in Whatcom County, Washington, to bring Spink in for probation violations relating to an earlier arrest for drug smuggling.

But that wasn’t what made the headlines. What got the big, bold typeface was the announcement by authorities that they had busted a “bestiality farm” run by Spink, where clients could be serviced by dogs or horses he had on the property (including a champion show jumper). The allegations grew even weirder when local animal rescuers announced that they have saved several rats covered with petroleum jelly. One “client,” an English tourist, was arrested with Spink.

Carreen Maloney was an experienced print journalist and a supporter of the Whatcom County animal shelter that received Spink’s animals. While the headlines about bestiality repulsed her, she wondered about a lot of things. Why hadn’t any of the reporters who covered the story tried to interview Spink to get his side? Weren’t journalists supposed to be fair? What happened to the animals, especially seven dogs and the mice, that went to the county shelter? And what made a successful businessman like Spink, who worked in cutting-edge encryption technology that even puzzled the Feds, drop everything to live like a hermit and indulge a sexual orientation many people found revolting?

Thus began an eight-year odyssey for Maloney, but her toil and research has paid off in a remarkable tale that reads like a mystery story but has the ring of truth. We find out that the 2010 raid was only the beginning of Spink’s troubles with the justice system, which seemed more concerned about ending his vocal support for his alternative sexuality than about punishing him for a non-violent crime.

Maloney has accumulated a huge volume of material on Spink’s dual life, a high-tech wizard by day and a zoophile by night, and distilled it to its most essential parts. The story plunges backward and forward in time, exploring Spink’s past, his family life, and the marriage that ended in failure when he came out as a zoophile, and a gay one at that. But Maloney handles these transitions with great skill, even weaving in her own narrative, as a tragic personal loss sets her on the road to telling Spink’s story.

Along the way, Maloney also takes sidetracks into other elements of the hidden zoo culture, showing us how it covertly appears in art, advertising, entertainment, religion, as an enduring theme of a group that’s uncomfortable with its own species. She uses Spink’s torment at the hands of federal prosecutors as a lens through which to view society’s loathing of human-animal sex, and she courageously asks the question, why? Why such a visceral reaction?

If you are a zoophile, or know someone who is, you owe it to yourself to buy Uniquely Dangerous, because seldom has writing on this inflammatory topic been so lucid, so even-handed and well-documented. If you are interested in the psychology of human sexual deviance, this book will provide useful insights. Similarly, those concerned with loss of personal freedoms and the erosion of privacy will find a story that illustrates their worst fears. If you like tales of personal will and courage in the face of overwhelming odds, you’ll cheer Spink’s outspoken defiance. And if you simply admire a riveting piece of journalism about a taboo subject, Maloney won’t disappoint you.

The portrait that emerges is of a complex, troubled man who always seems to find himself athwart the tides of life, whether he’s fighting his ex-wife for his beloved jumping horse or telling a federal court judge exactly how he feels. In the end, you may not like Doug Spink, but you might come to admire him. In a world that demands conformity, he refused to bend. Uniquely Dangerous is the balance sheet of what that stand has cost him.

— Malcolm J. Brenner, author: Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover

(In the interest of full disclosure, my novel, above, receives a brief mention in Uniquely Dangerous as part of material past the Appendix. This inclusion has in no way influenced my opinion of the book, however. — MJB)

 

 

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