When Fursuiting and Charity Radiates Positive Difference – Dogbomb, Furry Weekend Atlanta & The 2019 ALS Walk

by Dogpatch Press Staff


Joe Bear in suit

As a young kid growing up in 1970’s Los Angeles, I was always fascinated by seeing costumed performers at events like circuses, or Disneyland and the now defunct Hanna-Barbera’s Marineland in Palos Verdes, CA. To see tall cartoon characters come to life as Baloo, Yogi Bear, and Scooby Doo let me escape into a virtual fantasy life of myself living in a world alongside Anthropomorphic Animals.

Though I grew up and went to college, graduated and attended grad school — and recently celebrated 19 years employed for a major telecommunications company with a Pension and 401k — I’m still that kid that refused to grow up. The ‘Hooman’ in me was not enough. I wanted to be my own ‘Bear.’ It led to my amazement that there’s a fan base just for this.

I discovered ‘The Furry Fandom’ in late 2013 by another Furry who had a German Shepherd fursuit stored in the trunk of his ol’ jalopy. His name was ‘Kaz,’ and he was picking me up at San Diego’s Santa Fe train station. When he popped open his trunk to put my bags in, I noticed his fursuit and asked him “is that a dog costume?”  I thought he was working at an amusement park or something. Instead he was a Furry, and I got my 15 minute crash course in ‘The Fandom’.

I didn’t attend my first Furry Convention until June, 2015: ‘Califur’ in Irvine, CA. I was with two friends who were young enough to be my own kids. It was an experience to watch Furries parade around The Irvine Marriott — but I couldn’t make much sense out of it, and I did feel somewhat out of my comfort zone.

That first ‘Califur’ is where I met Tony Barrett, known as ‘Dogbomb,’ with his version of a German Shepherd fursuit. He was very friendly and we chatted for a few minutes. I found out he was a local Orange County resident and active in the Fandom. He was friends with someone I knew early on named ‘Teh’ or ‘Desoto’ who was a Shep too. I knew ‘Desoto’ a lot longer than ‘Dogbomb’, but in retrospect I wished I had more time to get to know Tony. That is a regret I can’t correct.

Ten months later, in April, 2016 — I got an invitation from another Furry friend named ‘Toad’, who lived in Atlanta. I could room with him ‘for free’ at Furry Weekend Atlanta 2016 (The theme was ‘Camp Furry Weekend’), at the Marriott Marquis Atlanta. I bought my United Airlines ticket and flew out. What a change FWA was in comparison to ‘Califur’ 2015. That second convention is what got me SOLD into ‘The Fandom’.

Two years later, after careful thought and consideration (and the sudden death of my Mom in July, 2018) — I decided to commission my own Grizzly Bear fursuit. It would be made by a close friend and incredible fursuit maker named ‘Eddie,’ from ‘Builder Bear Studios’ near Easley, South Carolina. This 52 years old ‘Greymuzzle’ was finally going to ‘Suit Up’ as in The Foxes and Peppers song.

On May 9th, Joe Bear debuted at Furry Weekend Atlanta 2019 after Opening Ceremonies. I was amazed at the quality and love Eddie put into making my ‘Fursona’ into a real awesome looking Californian Grizzly Bear with glasses and a moving jaw. I had a lot of fun being out on the multi-con spaces that make FWA my favorite furry con. But I had thoughts – I blurted out ‘This Is Great!!’ but what’s next? I had NO prior costuming experience, and I felt like a lumbering fur rug walking the Marriott carpet with little emotion.

I knew there was something ELSE that I could do to make a difference, that would satisfy my urge and contribute to the common good. Furry Conventions are great, but it’s just a weekend long fur-block party for the attendees. However, the con does so much good too. Our FWA con fees do help those in need, as these cons do lovingly give back in dividends like their support for The Conservators’ Center In North Carolina (In 2018 alone, FWA attendees donated $50,000 for their charity). That made me feel satisfied that ‘The Fandom’ made it happen. But, I wanted to do more – to get more involved personally.

On the night of my fursuit unboxing at FWA 2019, Eddie Bear looked me in the eye and said “You’re bound to do great things, Joe”. I was surprised to hear that remark. He saw something in me that maybe I wasn’t seeing or realizing at that moment — that maybe something good would come out of getting my fursuit, two years after getting my first AARP card? Well, Eddie’s remark was ‘Spot On’.

My path led back to Tony Barrett ‘Dogbomb’, who was a strong athletic runner and participated in several Los Angeles Marathons. In March 2018, Tony’s shocking diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) led to an amazing outpouring of support from Furries near and far, including myself. In November 2018, Furries donated in large numbers to ‘Team Tony’ for The 2018 ALS Walk. The National ALS Association noticed the surge and appreciated the support. Sadly, ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease with a short life expectancy rate. Tony Barrett passed away on April 5th, 2019 — and we all changed our social media icons to his signature colorful Lei in his honor.

At FWA 2019, I hung out with a friend of mine and Tony’s named ‘Whiskey Foxtrot.’ He was wearing the 2018 ALS Walk shirt at a panel we attended. I promised to Whiskey that I was determined to get involved for The 2019 ALS Walk. One week after FWA & BLFC, I started to get my friends, family and my co-workers involved to support my page for ‘Team Tony’ and the upcoming walk.

My co-workers knew I was a Furry, and supported me generously. I appreciated a friend of mine and furry musician, Runtt Wah, and his band of collective fursuiter musicians called “WE ARE ONE” for creating a beautiful song in honor of Dogbomb, called “With You I Can Run Forever”. My 2019 ALS Walk fundraising goal was $500, but I ended up with $850!!

I’ve never been involved in a charity walk before, let alone in fursuit. The 2019 ALS Walk in Irvine, CA on Saturday, November 9th was my first charity walk, and ‘The OC Great Park’ in Irvine is a great venue. It was an AMAZING experience to be part of an event to honor one of our own, with 75 Furries, alongside many families and friends of those who were honoring a loved one and/or currently suffering from ALS. I finally realized the positive benefit of being a Fursuiter — as kids and adults alike were coming up, asking for pictures or for a hug. It was an emotional experience, something I will never forget.

I feel that using my fursuit for charity events is my way to support others, and I’m looking forward to participating in 2020 and beyond. I’m hoping to participate in a charity event in San Diego come mid-December — walking in The North Park Holiday Parade with a local charity group — along with future events including supporting The ALS Association of Orange County. 

Tony Barrett wrote a heartfelt letter that was read by our friend ‘Zarafa Giraffe’ before The 2018 ALS Walk. It’s something I take to heart and which I honor:

“I’ve had an amazing life, and I’m truly sorry that it’s coming to an early close. The saving grace is that get to do something positive before I go and that I get to say a proper goodbye to all my friends. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful folks, and I hope you take this moment and carry it forward — Be kind to strangers, help those in need, have a smile and a good word for everyone. Tell your friends and family that you love them at every opportunity. There will come a day when no one has to suffer from ALS, and you are making that future a reality. I am proud and honored to be a part of such an amazing group, and I love you all very much.”

I’m truly grateful to be part of a fandom that gives back to others, and this Bear hopes to grow in that journey by honoring Tony’s legacy and living up to his message. — (Joe G. Bear)

Thanks to Joe for sending this guest article, and to Dogbomb’s friends and supporters.

MORE ABOUT DOGBOMB’S IMPACT: dogpatch.press/tag/dogbomb

Last June, Dogbomb’s friend Trip Collie announced a tribute book with stories and art in memory of Dogbomb. Midwest Collie organized it with help from Trip, and it was planned to be over 120 pages with submissions from over 200 artists, with all proceeds going to benefit the ALSAOCC. It’s ready!