On the morning of April 5th, a beloved, longtime member of the furry community, Tony Barrett, aka “Dogbomb,” who had been diagnosed with ALS ( amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) over a year earlier, made the difficult decision to end his own life via physician assisted suicide (he lives in Arizona, where assisted suicide is legal for sufferers of terminal illnesses).
ALS is 100 percent fatal, and “Dogbomb” (as I will be referring to him here) had been experiencing a rapid decline in his quality of life. He was having difficulty walking, and even breathing and swallowing. ALS is a devastating and disfiguring disease that currently has no cure. It normally kills within a few years (2 to 10 years being average), although in rare cases, it can take much longer (astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was first diagnosed with ALS in 1963, and he didn’t succumb to it for 55 years!)
I never met Dogbomb, but he’s a member of the same furry community my son has been active in since about 2009. He’s evidently hugely popular within the community because of his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such a devastating diagnosis and grim prognosis. Since Dogbomb was first diagnosed in early 2018, he has organized marches and walks to raise funds for ALS research and has become a huge inspiration to people both within and outside of the furry community. He’s older than most of his fellow furries, who tend to be mostly Millennials, and has taken on a kind of older brother or mentoring role to many of them, who are in turn inspired by his love of life, enthusiasm, positive attitude, and passion for activities that help find a cure for ALS.
That’s enough background. I read Dogbomb’s story on Twitter the other night completely by accident, and then I stumbled on this short animation created by one of Dogbomb’s close friends (“Jib Kodi”), made just after Dogbomb publicly announced he would be ending his life. I don’t think there’s any need to explain what this video means, other than that it’s about the power of friendship and the furry community’s unwavering support as Dogbomb commences his journey out of this world and into the next. Notice the “Run to Fight ALS” shirts some of the characters are wearing.
— Jib Kodi @ PFC 2019 (@JibKodi) April 4, 2019
This little animation made me totally lose it for almost an hour. Not just a few tears, but full blown sobbing. This wasn’t actually unpleasant at all, but cathartic. Like a good emotional enema, I felt like my soul had been cleansed.
Later, I tried to figure out why I had reacted so intensely. I didn’t know this man, I never fought ALS or knew anyone who had, I’m not a member of the furry community, and yet…this little video grabbed my heart, turned it inside out, and twisted it hard!
For years I’ve been terrified of dying. Not just the suffering and pain that often precedes death, but a fear of death itself. It’s really a fear of the unknown. No matter how strong one’s faith, no one knows for certain what will happen after they die. I don’t have all that many years left, maybe two or three decades at most. Maybe less than that. My fear of death, rather than dissipating as I grow older as it seems to do for most people, has intensified. This is a real problem, since death isn’t something that I can avoid. I can delay it, but one day it’s going to happen whether I want it to or not.
Dogbomb was a man who, though not very old, did not fear death. He stared his own mortality in the face and said fuck you to it, and then grabbed its icy hand and told it some jokes. Dogbomb was a man who I have been told always smiled at everyone, and was always willing to listen to others’ troubles, even when he had much worse problems of his own and knew his illness was terminal.
Rather than sink into self pity, crawl into his bed, and wait for death to take him, he stayed active, organized events and marches to raise funds to find cures and new treatments for the disease that was killing him. He got countless others involved and did a lot of good for sufferers of ALS. At the very least, he gave them hope and inspired them.
And finally, he decided he was going to die his own way, not ALS’s way. He died willingly in a loving and supportive environment among his closest family and friends. If dying joyfully is a thing, Dogbomb did it.
And now, after being so inspired and moved by Dogbomb’s story, I can finally understand those who say that death can be a beautiful and uplifting thing, a beginning rather than an end, the start of a new journey — and not something dark and morbid that we should fear. For someone with ALS or another painful or physically crippling disease, death also means freedom for a soul that had been trapped in what had become nothing more than a burdensome flesh prison.
Dogbomb wrote one last tweet on the morning of his death:
“Dogbomb has left the building. I love y’all!”
I can’t say my fear of death is cured, but I’m getting there. Dogbomb’s beautiful life of service to others, and courageous (and joyful) passing has helped me with that.
My Son is “Furry” — Got a Problem With That? (posted 9/20/14)