Page last updated at 12:37 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Who are the furries?

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By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

A court case where the two defendants met on a "furry" website has put the spotlight in this little-known world. So what is a furry?

Lenya looks adorable, with lots of glossy white fur, black paws, a shiny pink nose and cute little pointed ears.

But Lenya is also a 48-year-old computer network administrator called Marshall Woods, who likes motor racing, visiting museums and reading crime novels in his spare time.

DEFINITIONS
Furry art
Anthropomorphism: Attribution of human traits to an animal
Zoomorphism: Attribution of animal traits to a human
Source: K.Gerbasi

Mr Woods is what is known as a furry and Lenya is a "fursona" he has created, which he described as a "sort of space weasel". As part of getting into character he wears a handmade, full-size fursuit.

Furry Fandom, furrydom, furdom - it's called many things - has momentarily found itself in the spotlight in the UK, due to a court case where the two defendants met on a furry website.

It is a largely unknown scene and participants have been happy to keep it that way, feeling they are often misunderstood. So what is a furry?

No standard definition exists but generally furries are people who have a fascination with anthropomorphic animals. These are animals that are given human traits, like walking and talking. They can be anything from cartoons characters like Bugs Bunny to computer game personalities like Pokemon.

The scene has its own art, animation, comic books and literature, but activities are largely conducted online - where furries adopt "fursonas" for role playing.

But for some it is about meeting other furries in person. Groups around the world meet regularly and there are conventions in the US, UK, Germany, Mexico, France, Russia and Brazil.

Petting and scratching

Furries say the scene is about creativity, freedom and community; being who you want to be among like-minded people.

"You get to choose what and who you are. Imagination is OK, no matter what your age," says Mark Merlino, a founding member of the furry culture in the US and known as Sylys Sabl