WYANET — Four years ago, Tom Anderson of Wyanet embarked on a quirky hobby he never dreamed he’d ever get into.
He considers himself part of the furry fandom, which is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
Anderson owns a life-sized Husky dog costume he had custom made in Arizona. The inspiration behind his character comes from his first dog, Husky. He’s named his character Rex Masters.
Anderson wears the suit to events where he’s been invited to entertain. He’s also been known to attend furry conventions around the United States, which attract fellow furry fans from all over the world.
Anderson got his first taste of furry conventions in November 2013, at the Midwest Fur Fest in Chicago, which attracted around 4,000 people that year.
There he met furries from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Scotland and beyond.
He describes the people behind the masks as being “brilliant, geeky.” Many have professional careers that range from research scientists, engineers of all fields, aerospace professions, computer technicians, professors, etc.
“They tend to be pretty technically-oriented people, but there are a lot of artists who are into it as well,” he said.
Anderson, who is a retired engineer, said in many cases, people in these types of careers tend to be introverts, and the furry fandom allows escapism. The subculture is more than just a costume, but for some, a way to break out of their social comfort level and become someone they can’t when the mask is off.
“A lot of them have some sort of autism or Aspergers. It’s helped people who don’t know how to open up and talk to other people. They put on the suit and open up and make a bunch of friends,” he said. “For some people, it can do great things. It’s like one large support group. It’s very hard to explain. A lot of people don’t understand it. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about it. A lot of people just think it’s weird for people to dress up in dog suits and do this.”
Anderson said it’s just a fun way of entertaining and one that people of all ages enjoy because they’re drawn to the anthropomorphic figures.
“It’s been in cartoons for years, and people see it as friendly and part of their childhood. It’s just so different and unexpected — friendly, warm, welcoming, non-threatening,” he said.
Anderson has entertained at all kinds of events. Many may recognize his Husky suit from the annual Old Wheels Show in Princeton. He’s even visited a nursing home that was looking for a way to cheer up its senior citizens. And it’s no surprise when he’s walking down the street from an event and moms with their kids pull over on the side of the road and ask to get their picture taken with him.
“Kids just pile out of cars and stores to get their pictures taken. It’s just been amazing,” he said. “It’s makes me feel good and pumps me up.”
They say things happens for a reason. And perhaps that’s the case for Anderson and his new interest. About the time he was getting into the furry fandom, he was diagnosed with cancer, which led to a neurological disease that’s left him unable to do the hands-on hobbies he once loved.
His wife, Laurie, said she could see it was bringing him to depression.
“When he’s in his suit, he’s totally different. It’s like he has a purpose. It makes people happy. I can tell what his demeanor is when some little kid comes up. I can tell it gives him a lot of joy. I’m glad he has that outlet to give him purpose and give him joy,” she said.
Aside from the delight it brings her husband, Laurie said she’s most amazed at how the costume brings joy to not only younger generations, but older ones, as well. At the recent Old Wheels event in June, she watched several senior citizens get their picture taken with Rex Masters.
“It broaches all age groups. You think it’s going to make little kids happy, but everyone smiles and laughs,” she said.
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