A few months ago, Fernando DeCarvalho, owner of Fernando's Cafe Downtown, told the CEO of Anthrocon his bad news.
Damaged by the recession and weighed down by debt, Mr. DeCarvalho, a native of Brazil who opened his restaurant a decade ago, couldn't make his rent and would have to shut down his Liberty Avenue shop before the furries came to town.
The restaurant -- a must-go destination for anthropomorphic enthusiasts who are seen each summer walking Downtown in fursuits, tails and ears -- had been part of the Anthrocon experience for the past seven years the conference has been in Pittsburgh, said CEO Samuel Conway.
Mr. DeCarvalho was a friend of the furries, Mr. Conway said, and the furries decided they'd try to keep Fernando's Cafe in business for one more convention.
"We figured we'd raise $3,000 to $4,000, enough to keep the hound away from his door. No pun intended," Mr. Conway said.
Just over $23,000 in donations flowed in from furries around the world, more than enough to keep Mr. DeCarvalho's restaurant running through July, when he will close down shop and begin religious studies to become a pastor.
"I believe God worked through the furries, because I really was in need," he said.
The unlikely match -- between a 29-year-old restaurant owner from Brazil and a convention known for attracting people who wear animal outfits -- began at the first Pittsburgh Anthrocon convention in 2006, when Mr. DeCarvalho drew chalk outlines of paw prints leading from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the sandwich shop he briefly renamed Furnando's Cafe.
He welcomes every convention that comes to town, but no one has responded like the furries. That first year, he did three months of business in four days.
He ran with it: Items on his menu received furry-related names and he sold special Anthrocon T-shirts and beanie babies. This year, instead of trays, he handed out dog bowls.
He charmed a group of people who are often treated badly, Mr. Conway said. But, he said, it was the brick incident that earned Mr. DeCarvalho his "furry badge of honor."
In one of the convention's first years in Pittsburgh, Mr. DeCarvalho interceded when a man was harassing his furry customers. The man responded by hitting him with a brick, sending Mr. DeCarvalho to the hospital with a fractured skull and leaving him with a scar on his forehead.
"He literally became a legend from that event," Mr. Conway said. "We just adored him ever since."
Today, on the first day of his first Anthrocon, Edward Moyer, a 35-year-old from Manitoba, Canada, who goes by "Racs" for raccoon, was already a regular at Fernando's Cafe.
"This is like the mecca of the convention," he said. "You've got to come here at least once."
It's difficult for Mr. DeCarvalho to explain the furry furnomenon to his friends and family back in Brazil, but he's sent them videos. While he isn't a furry himself, Anthrocon has declared him an honorary one.
"Even if he's honorary, I think he's got a little fur in him," Mr. Moyer said. "We rubbed off on him maybe."
This story was written for The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://old.post-gazette.com/trypress/ Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707. First Published June 15, 2012 6:00 PM