Sixteen-year-old Ian Holt wore a blue dog collar with a tag labeled "Blaze," a T-shirt depicting a wolf on a mountain range, and had a soft grey faux-fur tail clipped to the belt loop of his jeans on Oct. 31.
He was running the third meeting of the Furry Club, a new organization at Tokay High School looking for ways to promote "furry fandom."
It's a subculture that originated at a science fiction convention in the 1980s, during a discussion on animal characters with human traits. Soon, enough fans were dressing as animals and sharing cartoon drawings to host their own convention, and the fandom has grown since. Much of the community can be found online.
Members proposed creating tails, fundraising for collars, designing T-shirts and learning to create their furry identities.
In general, they're called furries. People who connect with birds are called avians. Reptile fans are known as scalies. They all tend to be creative, imaginative and welcoming, said Holt.
The club boasts a membership of about a dozen people. No one in the group reported bullying or backlash from others at school. Sometimes there's an odd look, or a question about the tail. It seems not many people care, said Holt.
"Everyone I've met through the fandom is extremely accepting," he said. "People are just loving and animal-like."
Holt started the Furry Club this year to create a space for safe exploration of the furry world.
"So many of my friends were closet furs. With this club, we can be open about it. That way we won't be scared or nervous. We can do this together," said Holt.
When Holt asked his U.S. history teacher to advise the club, Jason Byrd wasn't immediately swayed.
Red flags sprang up in Byrd's mind when he heard the term "furries," as the term can carry some suggestive implications. However, the Tokay High School club is entirely focused on students who wish to express their affinity for animals through drawing, costumes and stories.
Adviser Byrd says connecting the club with fetishism is the biggest misconception the students have come across. He sees the kids as fans of animals.
"It's like animals with human characteristics. It's about personifying the animals they feel close to," he said. "This is an escape for outsider kids. And maybe there is something to the idea of humans with animal connections."
Holt connects with his inner animal through a character named "Blaze Yoofeelious," a grey wolf of his own creation.
Holt got his start in the fandom by searching online and doing his best to filter through the more inappropriate Google results. Since then he has collected five clip-on tails, two collars with tags, posters with artistic prints of wolves, and an eagerness to lead his friends further into the fandom.
Taylor Brown, 16, is not yet so open with her "fursona," a wolf/fox hybrid called T-Dog. She likes to draw, and has sketchbooks filled with animal artwork. At Wednesday's meeting she sported a bright orange tail, but no collar.
"Everyone is accepted in it. You can be yourself and no one cares," she said.
Cailey Tamayo, 14, identifies as Fang in the club.
"My family thinks it's a little weird that I'm running around in a tail," said Tamayo. "People might stare, but I'm just having fun."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.