Room fur everyone
Sacramento’s furries just want to hang out, go bowling and have a good time
The clock hits 10 p.m. on a Saturday as the lights dim inside a crowded Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes and multicolored LEDs bounce around the walls to the rhythm of DJ Casper’s “Cha-Cha Slide.”
Brandon Zamora steps up to lane three amid the clinking of beer glasses and the sound of bowling pins crashing together. As he tries to ignore the noise, Zamora grasps a candy-red bowling ball with both hands, squats down, swings the 14-pound ball between his legs and throws it down the slick wood.
It lands in the gutter, of course.
Zamora’s shoulders slump with disappointment. “Well, OK, you try to bowl with fursuit gloves,” he says.
It isn’t easy to bowl using clawed paws and trying to see through the narrow slits of his racoon mask, only to be thrown off-balance by a long black-and-gray tail.
Zamora, aka Kuma the Racoon, has been a “furry” for more than nine years, and he’s not alone in Sacramento. The bowling alley is crowded with about 50 people, ranging in age from 11 to 62 and all wearing vibrantly colored, mascot-like costumes known as fursuits.
The suits are their “fursonas,” which is like a persona, but, well, furrier. They choose the animals and mythical creatures they believe best represents them.
The “furry fandom,” as it is officially known, is a worldwide community that reportedly dates back to a 1980 science fiction convention, where a discussion of anthropomorphic characters in sci-fi books led to groups who would regularly meet up at conventions. Over time, this grew to dressing up as animal characters, as well as giving them human personalities and characteristics.
While members of the furry fandom are often depicted by mainstream media as primarily interested in the lifestyle to satisfy a fetish, most say that’s a misconception—and one they want to end. Rather, some create fursonas as a way to explore the personality traits they wish they had outside the suit. And new social media platforms are pushing the hobby closer to the mainstream.
The Sacramento fandom considers itself an outlet for creativity, mental health and community. Take the “Furbowl,” for example. Hosted by SacFurs, a local furry community group, it’s a monthly event where members can bowl and mingle in a place of acceptance.
On this recent weekend night, the bowling alley is the domain of the furries. Blue dogs mingle with white and purple tigers. A blue and red husky with its tongue sticking out chats with a bright orange deer. The goat from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame dances to the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
But SacFurs’ Furbowl wouldn’t be anything like it is today without the internet.
In the early 2000s, a group of local furries decided to form a Yahoo chat room, called “Sacramento Furries,” where anthropomorphic enthusiasts could connect. The group wanted an online forum to build a sense of community—a fluffier community. By 2004, local furries had established their own website, SacFurs.com, where local events and meetups could be posted.
Merris-Miche, aka Zoren the blue dragon, was one of the first members of SacFurs, and is now the event lead. He’s responsible for continuing “Furbowl” after the initial organizers wanted to discontinue the event in 2013.
“It was important to me because [of] the amount of fun, and the enjoyment that everyone attending continues to have, and it’s a physical thing that people can go to and mingle,” Merris-Miche says.
He says he has seen the fandom increase as apps such as Tik-Tok have sparked the interest of the younger generations. Molly Quinn, a 13-year-old whose fursona is an arctic wolf named Fizzy, is a regular at events. Her mother, Vanessa Quinn, says she sees the fandom as a creative outlet for her daughter.
“I was talking to other parents here, and we all agree when [the kids] make these costumes it makes a mess,” she said.
The furry community also has been known to be used for an outlet to cope with mental health issues like depression. Zamora says everything changed when he stumbled upon the fandom when he was 16 in 2011, and started going to SacFurs meetups around 2016.
“I had a very negative look on the world, and I was even to the point where I wanted to kill myself,” Zamora says. “But when I found this fandom and found friends that actually supported me, it completely changed my outlook on life.”
Heads of tails
Besides “FurBowl,” furries have conventions, including the annual Further Confusion in San Jose. During the three-day convention, fursuiters attend events, buy furry-related art and meet people just like them.
“The more you look … the more you realize, ’Wait, these are regular people like everyone else,’” says Steven Lari, aka D!SK0, a local green wolf. “We just have an incredible imagination, and we let our imagination just go wild.”
It’s not about sex, say members of the Sacramento subculture, who said that stereotype can be traced to a 2003 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, titled “Fur and Loathing,” which depicted furries as part of a murderous sex cult. Though they admit that the fandom acts as a kink for a small portion of the community, a vast majority of furries are not interested in that aspect.
Besides, members of the fandom have much better things to do, such as designing their ideal fursuit that best represents their shaggier side. Most put together their fursuits themselves.
The average full fursuit can cost up to a couple thousand dollars, depending on the designer and the detail. There are a few fursuit categories, including the quadsuit or the partial fursuit, where it’s just the head, tail and paws. A full fursuit may even feature digitigrade legs, which are achieved by sewing two banana-shaped pillows into the legs to imitate the appearance of actual animal morphology. For those who can’t afford intricate fursuits, some ears and a tail will do.
Back at Fireside Lanes, Phyllis Franklin, a regular bowler, walks up to a pack of multicolored canines to ask questions. She says she has been curious and doesn’t see the harm in a little fluff.
“To each his own,” Franklin says. “They’re there, they’re having fun, they’re having a good time, so good for them.”
On the other side of the bowling alley, a group of furries line dance along with some non-furries to V.I.C.’s “Wobble.” Meanwhile, at lane three, Zamora and his other fuzzy friends laugh at themselves while struggling to pick up bowling balls with their fursuit paws.
“I never would have thought in a million years that a character I created out of [my] mind would do so much for me as a person and for my life,” Zamora says.