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Michael Jensen was supposed to become a published author before the year was out, but the whole deal was scuttled as the manuscript was on its way to the printer.
According to reports, Cedar Fort Publishing of Springville, Utah, had signed a contract to publish Jensen’s book in October. But the company that aims its products at Mormon readers backed out this week, blaming a revelation in the author’s back-cover bio as the deal-breaker.
The bio’s controversial line read thus: “He lives in Salt Lake City with his partner and their four dogs.”
I confess that I am bewildered. I don’t know why a Mormon publisher would have any problem with this innocuous, domestic tidbit. I’ve been a Mormon all my life, and I’ve never heard any preaching against dogs.
Many of the Mormon families in the neighborhood in which I grew up in Utah—and there were only Mormon families in the neighborhood in which I grew up in Utah—had a dog.
My own family had two. Though not simultaneously. Scooter followed a few years after Cocoa, God rest their souls. Although the neighbor over the back fence made threatening and putatively anonymous phone calls to our house when Scooter barked at four in the morning, never once did our bishop condemn us for keeping the mutt.
Thinking that I and my neighborhood of faithful Mormons missed something, I’ve gone back through my Book of Mormon to find the anti-canine doctrine. While the holy book does seem to think badly of dogs as scavengers and as inordinately fond of their own vomit, there’s no condemnation of dog owners. I still don’t know what Cureloms and Cumoms are.
The only thing that might be unusual about Jensen’s domestic situation is the number of dogs with which he lives. Perhaps Cedar Fort is not worried about keeping dogs, per se, but about the countercultural intemperance in keeping four.
It’s true that old-school Mormons preach “moderation in all things” with abandon. But surely the degree to which keeping four dogs is excessive depends on the size and dispositions of the dogs.
I suppose, if it were to turn out that Jensen and his partner keep four mildly rabid Irish Wolfhounds in a five hundred square foot apartment in Sandy, I would be inclined to think the pair not only impractical but at least a little deranged. Heck, given the breed’s naturally annoying temperament, if they’re keeping four Chihuahuas I’m likely to try to avoid these guys at the dog park.
But the dogs themselves aren’t going to keep me from buying Jensen’s book. Unless it’s one of those cutesy gimmicks where the dogs wrote the book. I don’t care what it’s about—reading a book by four chihuahuas sounds to me like putting your head in a Plasmatics album and yelling “Fire!”
Jensen could have avoided the confrontation with Cedar Fort by lying about the number of dogs in his house. If he’d simply written that he and his partner live with only three dogs, Jensen might not have so disturbed his publisher’s self-serving ethics, and nothing about his living arrangements would have changed. He might have run the risk of alienating the fourth dog, but chances are that Colonel Barksalot would have been none the wiser. Chihuahuas can’t read—not even the ones who write books.
For that matter, he could have written that he and his partner live with seven budgerigars. Nobody’s offended by budgerigars. But nobody believes that a budgerigar owner could write a book, either.
I remain puzzled. Dogs couldn’t be the problem. Don Bluth himself is a Mormon, for goodness’ sake. No, the problem must be something else. But, for the life of me, I can’t see what it would be.
Maybe living in Salt Lake City is the problem.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage and My Mormonism. Routledge will publish his biography of Brigham Young next year. Follow him on Twitter: @fatsodoctor.