Before last weekend, Cheryl Wassus had no idea what a “furry” was. So naturally, when the Motor City Furry Convention chose Pets for Vets (a nonprofit that pairs dogs with military veterans) as its charity of choice, she assumed that she and Link, her one-year-old Bernese mountain dog, would be spending the day at an animal event. She wasn’t wrong, necessarily — it’s just that the animals were maybe slightly more anthropomorphized than she had envisioned.
Today, Cheryl Wassus — whose son, Kenny, is a senior producer here at New York Media — definitely knows what a furry is. This is her story.
So what did you think you were walking into on Saturday?
You know, I have been affiliated with Pets for Vets for a while, and what I try to do is promote the program. I’ve got a really nice dog who has been trained with the benchmarks [for being a certified therapy dog] … so it’s nice to take Link and get him out there and have him exposed — because he is a young dog — to lots of different things. I really had no idea what to expect going in on Saturday. This organization had chosen us as their charity. They actually solicited us, and adopted us more or less, as their go-to charity for this big function. This is just a whole subculture I wasn’t even aware existed. When we set up tables and do promos and educate the public and do outreach, I had no idea the outreach was going to be other human … furry people. I guess you’re never too old to learn.
Did you get the chance to talk to many of the furries?
Yes. I learned so much about this whole new culture of people who get together and dress up in furry costumes. I didn’t know that there was this progression — like first, they choose a name, and start off with just a tail and ears. But from there, some of these costumes are amazing, and so elaborate. I was asking a lot of questions. Where do you get these? Where do you come up with something like this? A lot of people design their own, I guess. They decide what character they want to be, and then they spend lots of money having these costumes made. And then, they all get together for these events. Similar people. Similar interests. And they come together [at cons].
Right. Like the one you and Link attended.
Yeah, I had no idea I was walking into Furry Con. It was a little embarrassing at first because Link was just a little curious why people were wearing tails, so he was doing some serious tail-sniffing and checking out people. They weren’t offended, though, they just embraced him. It was all good. Just a real interested community.
So you had never heard of furries before this weekend, I take it?
Never. No. I didn’t know there were furries. The only furry I’d ever seen was at Easter, when somebody might put on one of those gigantic Easter-bunny costumes at a local egg hunt. That was my whole background with furries. That was it for me.
The photos your son tweeted are so funny; Link’s eyes seem to bug out of his head more and more with every new furry he meets.
You know, you can’t replicate that. I train puppies and do training with Canine Good Citizen and do trip training, and you cannot replicate what that one afternoon of walking him through every imaginable costume and scenario, with all of these different people and being in a new place. I was talking to one of the moms [of a furry], while I was sitting at our [Pets for Vets] booth, and she said a lot of these kids just aren’t understood. Her son got into it, and she said sometimes they don’t have the confidence to move around comfortably — socially, in groups — but they put on these costumes, and they’re transformed.
Did the furries and Link get along?
Yeah! We actually did a panel discussion about our charity and what we do, and these people, these furries, were very taken by what we do. Laurie [another volunteer] did a really nice presentation about the brain, when it comes to PTSD and vets, and they took off their furry costumes, or just the heads. Those things have to get incredibly warm. I can’t fathom wearing one of those all day. But, yes, they were absolutely tuned in … I saw some tears, people were definitely listening and paying attention. I don’t know what the final toll will be, but I imagine Pets for Vets is going to do quite well.
[Editor’s Note: The Motor City Furry Con raised $10,000 for Pets for Vets.]
Did you have a favorite furry costume?
The one, and I thought he might really put off my Link, was the big guy in the black wolf costume. He looked so awesome. He even has a different tint on the eyes, the degree of workmanship is amazing. It’s like Hollywood level. That guy’s costume was probably my favorite, and he seemed to really enjoy Link, too.
After spending the day with them, how do you feel about furries now?
To each his own. This seems pretty harmless. It seemed like there were lots of people around the same age. I saw little pieces of humanity I’d never seen before.
Is it safe to say you won’t be buying yourself a furry costume anytime soon?
No, I don’t think so. No. You know, you get a little older, a little menopausal, and being in that many layers and layers of fur. No need to be overheating. I’m good.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.