What exactly do furries, veterans, and a dog named Link have in common? They’re all part of this week’s Feel Good Friday, one of the neatest pieces I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing. It’s the perfect story of the great things that can happen when we put aside perceived differences and work together for the greater good. And, it’s just a really fun, heartwarming story!
Our story took place earlier this year when the Motor City Furry Con, a convention for furries, reached out to Cheryl Wassus, a retired state parole officer. Cheryl, now a part-time dog trainer, lives in Monroe, Michigan and does a lot of volunteer work with Pets for Vets, a non-profit organization providing canine company for veterans. Her one-year-old licensed therapy dog, Link, a Bernese mountain dog, volunteers with her.
The furries, it seems, adopted Pets for Vets as their charity for the April 2017 convention. Cheryl, thinking it was a great opportunity to raise some money for the charity, all while providing some canine cuddles for attendees, happily accepted. She had no idea what was waiting for her at the Sheraton Hotel in Novi, Michigan that April Saturday.
As she told New York Magazine, “I really had no idea what to expect going in on Saturday. This organization had chosen us as their charity.” She told Cosmopolitan that, “I usually try to do some research the night before I go to these events but the website was pretty obscure. It had a [sic] links and information on how to register but no pictures. So I just assumed it was a regular business convention of some sort.”
The initial surprise at seeing hundreds of convention attendees dressed in head-to-toe animal costumes was short-lived for both Cheryl and Link. A few quick texts to her son explained what furries were; for Link’s part, a little tail sniffing was all he needed to feel right at home.
Cheryl said, “His eyes got bigger and bigger as we walked through the convention. He’s not used to seeing people with tails so he was very intrigued. He kept sniffing them under their tails and I kept apologizing but everyone was very nice about it.”
In fact, Link loved the furries and the feeling was mutual. As Cheryl put it, “We actually did a panel discussion about our charity and what we do, and these people, these furries, were very taken by what we do. Laurie [another volunteer] did a really nice presentation about the brain, when it comes to PTSD and vets, and they took off their furry costumes, or just the heads. Those things have to get incredibly warm. I can’t fathom wearing one of those all day. But, yes, they were absolutely tuned in … I saw some tears; people were definitely listening and paying attention. I don’t know what the final toll will be, but I imagine Pets for Vets is going to do quite well.”
It turns out that Pets for Vets did very well that day. The furries raised an incredible $10,000 for the charity!
And, it was an eye-opening experience for Cheryl, too.
“I talked to one of the mothers whose son was a furry, and she talked about how a lot of these young people don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, but then they put on these costumes and they’re transformed. The whole experience was pretty amazing,” Cheryl said.
Link had a great time, too. There was one furry in particular, a “big guy in the black wolf costume” that Cheryl thought might be a little off-putting to Link. “He looked so awesome. He even has a different tint on the eyes, the degree of workmanship is amazing. It’s like Hollywood level. That guy’s costume was probably my favorite, and he seemed to really enjoy Link, too.” And Link seemed to like his new wolf buddy, just as much.
Congratulations to Cheryl, Link, Pets for Vets, and the Motor City Furry Con for working together to bring joy into the lives of our veterans. Job well done! I think that’s worthy of a few belly rubs!
Update: Many of our brave veterans return from their service “with painful memories they wish they didn’t have. In many cases, veterans turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with these thoughts, especially PTSD. Luckily, there are resources available to help,” according to our friends at The Recovery Village. If you, or a loved one, are suffering after your service, reach out to these good folks. You are not alone.