Walking through the Westin Convention Center, Downtown, Kyle F., 29, caught sight of his reflection in a hallway mirror. He paused briefly at the image — large animated eyes, protruding snout, furry oversized head — before strolling away confidently, long red tail in tow.
Kyle is among the 5,600 anthropomorphic animal enthusiasts expected to attend the ninth annual Anthrocon convention today through Sunday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The theme of this year’s event is “Secret Societies,” a nod to rumors about clandestine organizations such as the Furry Intelligence Agency (FIA).
A resident of Newport, N.H., Kyle has been wary about sharing his hobby with anyone but his closest friends. “I work for a weapons manufacturing company,” he quipped. “If my co-workers found out about what I was doing this weekend, they might take a hunting permit on me.”
Participants admitted their fandom has elicited mixed responses from friends and family, and many withhold their full names so acquaintances back home don’t know about their hobby.
Wednesday at a media event, VisitPittsburgh CEO Craig Davis credited Anthrocon with generating economic activity in the city. Since the first gathering in 2006, the convention has contributed more than an estimated $7 million in direct spending to Pittsburgh.
Costumers such as Kyle comprise 20 percent of the artists, animators, puppeteers and other fans who flock to Pittsburgh for the event. They are a common sight this time of the year, when Pittsburghers are eager to witness the return of the furries.
“There is no city that welcomes us in the way Pittsburgh does,” said Samuel “Uncle Kage” Conway, chairman and CEO of Anthrocon. “People here have embraced walking foxes as part of the scene.”
This sense of acceptance is important for attendees, who come to Anthrocon to join a community of like-minded anthropomorphics devotees hailing from 25 countries and every state except North Dakota, Mr. Conway said.
Kyle crafted his “fursona,” Kazee, for last year’s Anthrocon. “Most people have several personalities that they switch back and forth between, but I really only have this one,” he explained. His costume is “mostly wolf with some fox,” and but for the rotund head, it is entirely self-made.
With paws outstretched and gesturing spiritedly, the more than 6-foot-tall Kazee was an outgoing creature, but Kyle admitted to being self-conscious, even reclusive, when out of costume.
The animal alter-ego gave him an avenue through which to express himself. Inside the costume, “I can do anything,” he said.
Vitai, a white Bengal tiger in a loincloth, nodded his head in agreement. His human identity is David K., 24, of Jacksonville, Fla., who has been attending Anthrocon for the past three years.
He noted that the entertainment value of the convention is often lost on those who dismiss dressing up as animals as “a little weird.”
“It’s not about the animal; it’s about the performance,” he said.
Anthrocon’s organizers work hard to preserve this element of theatricality.
Photographers are not permitted to take photographs of costumers unless they are fully garbed; photos of unmasked attendees drinking water are strictly off-limits.
These rules serve to uphold the convention’s enduring and most important belief: Humans can take the form of animals.
“Costumers like the illusion to be complete,” Mr. Conway said. More than 1,100 attendees dressed in full-body fursuits will walk in a parade Saturday afternoon inside the convention center.
After the costumes are shed and the convention draws to a close on Sunday, the furries will return home. Some will attend local meet-ups or post in online forums.
Others won’t bare their claws again until next year’s Anthrocon, keeping their animal identities under wraps until Pittsburgh beckons once more.
Yanan Wang: email@example.com, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @yananw.