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Canadian Furries Become Accidental Ambassadors to Syrian Refugee Kids

Convention attendees in animal suits were an exciting surprise for the newly arrived children.

Photo via Twitter user @LiveitRivet

Here’s a study in contrasts for you! Remember at the end of last year, in the wake of the tragic terror attacks in Paris, when 30 Republican governors in the U.S. said they would not welcome Syrian refugees into their states? Yeah. That was a terrible example of what many of them would surely refer to as “being good Christians.”

Canadians, on the other hand, have handled the situation very differently. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took office in October, personally greeted a group of refugees who recently arrived in British Columbia. Trudeau has committed to accepting 25,000 refugees, and last weekend a small number of them were welcomed by yet another open-armed Canadian community: furries.

In a delightful bit of chance, a group of refugees was put up at a hotel in Vancouver, B.C., on the same weekend that it hosted the fifth annual VancouFur convention, where the furry fandom gathered to connect through their shared appreciation for anthropomorphized animals.

Reports have come in indicating VancouFur’s desire to be sensitive toward the newly arrived Syrians and ensure that “each and every one of the refugees (and attendees) feels welcome and safe,” minding the fact that “this is likely to be a major shock to them.”

But fortunately, little kids don’t have the ingrained normative biases that so many adults do, and many of the Syrian children, in fact, loved interacting with the fur-suited convention-goers. Just imagine yourself at age 9, displaced from your home amidst conflict and suddenly in a completely new country, and one of the first things you see is a group of man-size dogs and rabbits walking around your temporary home. That’s basically like having Disneyland’s Storybook Land show up in your hotel lobby. The furries got to immerse themselves in role-play for a young audience, and the kids got to make fantastical friends for an afternoon. Everyone wins!

The movie Zootopia has recently landed in the news for its smash box-office performance and stellar reviews. But it’s also gotten some attention for Disney’s marketing tactics. BuzzFeed reported that the Mouse House was deliberately targeting the movie at furries, which has put the community back in the news as a kind of sexual fetish community.

In reality, furries are just a community of enthusiasts. Some take the culture more seriously than others, spending thousands of dollars on elaborate role-playing costumes. Some like to explore their sexual identity through it, and others just love the art and culture around it. So it’s a lot like Comic-Con, just with a specific animal focus. Gizmodo even published a letter from a reader last week, under the headline “In Defense of Furries,” that outlined what the furry community actually is, as opposed to what everyone else has decided to focus on—like the sex stuff.

“The definition that unites us all is that we all have some fascination for anthropomorphic animals to a certain extent,” the reader explained. “Inevitably, some people will come for the NSFW aspects such as sex and fetishes just how others come for the art, music, and dancing.”

So, in case you were wondering if the VancouFur attendees were just hanging out with the kids while they took a break from their backroom LARPing sexcapades, the answer is no. And you never know—if the John Kasichs and Ted Cruzes of the world donned fursuits of their own and hugged some Syrian refugee children, maybe they’d feel differently about telling those kids, “You’re not welcome here.”

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