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It's a furry weekend in Pittsburgh

| Saturday, June 17, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Samuel Conway got a kick out of going to a local mall, eliciting bewildered looks from shoppers.

After all, who wouldn't gawk at a man with a tail protruding from his business suit•

"People would come up to me and say, 'You're wearing a tail,' and I'd say, 'Why aren't you• Aren't you afraid people might look at you strangely for not having one?' " Conway said. "I had a tremendous amount of fun."

Conway, a self-described scientist, entertainer and author, is known as Uncle Kage in the world of anthropomorphism — now on display at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Anthropomorphism — also known as "furry fandom" — is an artistic and literary genre that celebrates the humanization of animals, specifically in cartoons and comics.

"Cartoon animals are a part of our culture; just look at advertising slogans," said Conway, chairman of Anthrocon, which is holding its 10th annual convention this weekend at the convention center. "You've got tigers telling us what gas to buy, animals saying which cereal to eat and a talking gecko to tell us what insurance to buy. That is what we're all about."

Conway declined to discuss whether the convention features more provocative activities -- such as people disguised as animals having sex with one another -- as pop culture suggests. That was the basis for an episode of CBS' hit series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," titled "Fur and Loathing" in Las Vegas. The episode starts with a man dressed as a raccoon found dead by the side of a road.

Other conventioneers yesterday acknowledged that adult-themed art is sold. On tap tonight at the convention is "Furry Mad-Libs: After Dark" -- programming for mature audiences.

Conway anticipates the convention, which ends Sunday, could attract nearly 2,500 "furries" from across the globe.

Highlights include workshops on science fiction writing, puppetry and veterinary emergencies. Anthrocon will hold a charity auction and host two special guests -- science fiction writer Diane Duane and cartoonist Scott Shaw! (yes, the exclamation point is part of his name). The money will go to the Western Pennsylvania National Wild Animal Orphanage.

Costumed "furries" will participate in a parade Sunday morning near the convention center. The route hadn't been determined, but Uncle Kage said he expected 200 "furries" to march.

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