Dated August 8, here is an article in The Florida Times-Union:
It looks at Florida's furry community, and the recent Megaplex convention.
The guys hit it off with 22-year-old Lonnie Weets, a communications and advertising major at the University of North Florida.
They invited him to hang out at their Monday night game nights, but they sent him a text to make sure he knew what he was getting into.
Of course, there would be fun, drinks and games.
But there would also be furries.
“I didn’t know what it was,” said Weets, who lives on the Southside.
He did some research and was fascinated.
Furries? People dressed as animals, but a lot more.
Weets wanted to see for himself.
And he’s glad he did.
Though Weets doesn’t identify himself as a furry, he enjoys their company.
“They are open-minded out-of-the-box thinkers and unique,” Weets said.
David Kanaszka, who lives on Jacksonville’s Southside, hosts the game nights. He recently returned from the Megaplex, Florida’s furry convention in Orlando held from July 31-Aug. 2. It’s been happening since 2002; this year, Megaplex attracted 1,472 attendees.
Yes, there are enough furries to have a convention. In fact, conventions are held across the United States and the world. More than 6,000 people from 34 countries attended the 2015 Anthrocon, the largest furry convention in the world. The name for Anthrocon, held in Pittsburgh since 2006, is derived from anthropomorphism, or giving human characteristics to nonhumans.
This year’s Anthrocon will have a $5.7 million economic impact on Pittsburgh, Tom Loftus of the city’s convention and visitors bureau told NPR Pittsburgh.
Kanaszka said the furry community is centered on the idea of walking and talking animals. Megaplex’s mission, according to its website, is to “provide for our membership a celebration of interactive arts and performance, with a primary focus on anthropomorphics and fantasy.”
In other words, furries identify with animals that have human qualities. Many furries have created their own animal characters, complete with a name and a backstory.
Kanaszka created Vitai Slade (in Latin, Vita means life, so his character’s name is inspired by that). Vitai Slade is a white tiger.
Kanaszka had a costume made to fit his image of Vitai. And costumes can be expensive, usually ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, but sometimes reaching $5,000.
And they can be stifling.
“It is very hot in the costumes. It’s kind of like wrapping yourself up in a giant carpet,” Kanaszka said. “It’s hot, not very comfortable, you have limited ‘tunnel vision’ and it’s harder to hear, talk and even move around.”
He doesn’t necessarily suit up, the term used to describe putting on an animal costume, during the game nights, but he will wear his fur suit whenever he feels like it. With the help of a handler to guide him, the 6-foot-6, 25-year-old wore it in St. Augustine while hanging out on St. George Street.
“If I’m in the mood to jump around and be a giant tiger, then I’ll do it,” Kanaszka said.
Bonomec (real name Jimmie Pixler) is the name another character, an Australian shepherd, wanted to use for this article. The self-described introvert, who is in the Navy, said, “Furry for me … it’s kind of a way to meet people.”
Bonomec lives on Jacksonville’s Westside and has connected with furries through game nights, conventions and online.
He said they’re all accepting and free of judgment.
Weets agrees. Though his furry friends call him by his middle name, Dakota, and gave him an animal personality of a jackal, he has no desire to get a costume. He just enjoys hanging out with the furry community.
“I enjoy meeting interesting people with interesting stories and unique perspectives on life,” Weets said.
Bonomec said he knows some people think his involvement in furry fandom is weird.
“When I first got my suit, I posted it online. All of my co-workers saw it. They said, ‘what the heck is this?’ ”
Bonomec explained that he had made a character and wanted to act it out.
His boss would jokingly bark at him from time to time.
“I’ve had significantly more good reaction than bad reaction,” he said.
Bonomec said that when he suits up, he does it with the general public in mind. He knows he’s going to cheer someone up. And seeing the smiles and the laughter makes him feel good.
Kanaszka feels the same way.
He’s a performer, he said, and this gives him a chance to do what he loves.
He said his character, Vitai, is playful and proud, giving hugs and making people smile.
When he’s in costume he said, “one of my favorite things to do is find the grumpiest people and start jumping up and down in front of them.”
He said he always knew he was different and didn’t see the world the same way as everyone else. As a teenager, he went online to figure out if there was a community that interested him.
That’s how he learned about furries.
What some people also learn when they research furries is the idea that furry fandom is a sexual fetish. Furries are a diverse group, mostly men but with an increasing female participation, from all professions, cultures, religions, races, political affiliations, etc. Some might be from a subculture, just as in the average general population, but mostly furries are just people who like to have good clean fun and make people smile.
“I could probably go on all day,” Anthrocon chairman Samuel Conway told NPR Pittsburgh. “ ‘I heard the furries this, I heard the furries that!’ The only real statement is, ‘I heard that furries are some of the most creative people on the face of the planet’ ”
Added Kanaszka: “Here’s the thing: You’re talking about a group of individuals who are mostly between the ages of 18 and 28. I’m not going to say that sex doesn’t happen, but that is not what the community is about.”
Kanaszka said doing the furry thing is no different than “Star Trek’s” Trekkies.
In his case, and for many of his friends, he loves cartoon animals.
“[I’m] basically a kid who never grew up,” Kanaszka said.
Kanaszka attends several conventions throughout the year. Programming focuses on a variety of arts and performances, from fursuiting, costuming and puppetry, to improvisational art and music. Furries also learn how to care for their costumes and dance in costume. There aren’t only “fursuit” games; at this year’s convention, Kanaszka gave a panel discussion on finances.
And his furry life has also inspired him to start a business, Tiger Brand Clothing Co., which makes T-shirts.
Each year, Megaplex raises money to benefit The CARE Foundation of Apopka. This year’s convention raised more than $7,000 to benefit the nonprofit animal sanctuary. The foundation sends speakers to Megaplex to talk about the local wildlife and abused pets it helps rescue, and staff members usually bring along a few of their animal friends — the real ones.
Kanaszka said that being a furry is a big part of his life.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
As for Weets, he’s still getting into the fur scene. He said he’s had to learn some of the jargon when he’s hanging out with his furry friends on game nights, which usually attracts between 20 to 30 people.
“Everyone has their escape from reality,” he said. “For them, [being a furry] is it. I respect that.”