It started out innocently enough... I was over at his house for an unrelated party, and he was walking around with a fox tail safety-pinned to his butt. I asked him what that was all about, and what the nick name "Swift Fox" meant and he started to explain Furry to me... I got excited, and he invited me to attend Anthrocon 1999 with him... There I discovered something inside myself that I had been missing for years. I also discovered something else that I thought was totally cool... Fur suits.
Now at the time, I just thought that they were cool... I've always loved mascots, but had never considered them in any situation outside of a sports game or PR event. I started taking pictures of the ones I liked the most, and settled for that...
But as we all know, when you like things that much, it never stays just a fascination.
Over the course of the next year, I started exploring the fandom. The corner that I started out in was full of people, but I found that there were thousands of others who shared this same interest, from all walks of life and all ethnic backgrounds.
My online character also started forming. Not as some do with a contrived back story and fictional roots, but as a part of myself. A part that had been hiding deep down inside me, working to get out, but never with an appropriate outlet. LilDobe, the nickname that I came up with quickly when I did my Anthrocon registration for the first time, actually started to fill out and have substance, at least in my mind. I started actually writing a description for artists to use after a bit of a disaster with my first actual con badge done by Amy Provonost. Now Amy is a wonderful artist, and she did a great job with my 30 second verbal description... but it wasn't at all what was in my "minds eye."
Then came the day that Swift Fox announced that he was going to be building his own fur suit... I was enthralled as Ashes the Dalmatian came to life, and as I helped him here and there, I found myself wanting more and more to have a fur suit of my own. Swift Debuted Ashes at Anthrocon 2000, and I walked around with him, marveling at the attention that he got, and how he could be someone completely different with that costume on.
I also started to notice some of my online friends wandering around in fur suits. I heard more and more talk about construction, commissioning them, and the cost involved. Now the cost is more then prohibitive, and I never imagined that I would ever have the money to do this, but I started saving, none the less.
In the fall of 2000, I was approached by one of the police officers in the community, and was asked if I could volunteer some of my time to perform the D.A.R.E. mascot, Daren the Lion. It was then that I decided that I would own a fur suit. After I put the costume on, I was no longer "Andrew Koch" I was Daren. Little children flocked to me, Adults would just walk up and hug me, and even some of the teenagers got a kick out of it. I had too much fun, and ended up almost giving myself heatstroke, but I decided that fur suiting was for me!
Later that year, I went to Further Confusion in California. I saw even more fur suits, and actually started lusting after them. I wanted one. I wanted to BE Dobie, not just some kid wandering around with a picture pinned to his shirt.
Along came Anthrocon 2001. Swift was all worried because the latex mask that he uses with Ashes had gotten damaged in one of the community events that he appeared at (Ashes is the mascot for the Aspinwall Volunteer Fire Department) so he went to a local costume shop and rented an off-the-shelf dalmatian costume.
It turned out that Swift got his mask back before the con, but had already paid to rent the suit, so I decided that I'd try it out. I had more then a blast. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
I also got to interact with the fur suters more that year, and one incident in particular still sticks in my mind... I was playing Iron Claw (An Anthropomorphic RPG) with a group of friends in the con's "Gaming Room" and several fur suiters came in, including Yappy Sly Fox. The suiters all made motions like they wanted to play, and Yappy picked up some dice and began rolling them. When he tried to pick up a D4 (A Pyramid shaped die with 4 sides) he just couldn't get his paws to grasp it. It was very funny, and really made an impression on me. It showed me how good you can make someone feel when you are in suit.
Over the next year, I did another community service appearance, this time as McGruff the Crime Dog. That wasn't quite as nice a suit as Daren, but it was still a blast.
In May of 2002, I moved to Daytona Beach, Florida to finish my flight training, and I started saving whatever money I had left over at the end of the month. I went to Anthrocon 2002 with a bit more of a smile on my face, and started paying attention to people who took commissions for suits. I started asking who made what suit, and how they were built. I had been doing lots of research on HOW fur suits were built, and had decided that there was no way I had the skills to do it for myself, but was appalled at the $4,000-$5,000 price tags on some of the nicer custom made suits.
In March of 2003, I went to PawPet Megaplex in
Orlando Florida. I ended up as a security officer, and had a blast
watching all of the fur suiters play... I also met Kuddlepup. KP Is a
sweet guy who does Charity events, and also lives with Chad Laubach, AKA
WildWolf who built the Kuddlepup Suit. Now I had seen KP's suit before,
and thought it was absolutely adorable, but I never had the chance to ask
who built it. I learned that Chad, who has also built several other very
nice suits was taking commissions, and I asked him how much, he quoted me
a reasonable price and I jumped at it.