The furries is a rather ominous description that encompasses two distinctly different groups of society: One is a very widespread group of individuals and smaller groups of people all around the world who, one way or another, are interested in animals. Due to this rather wide ranging nature, a short description of furdom is virtually impossible. The term furdom itself being a short version of Furrydom or Furry Fandom, it is in fact not applicable to much of what furdom actually is, as will become evident shortly, though it is a common term used by many to describe the entire group of furries all over the world. The other group is the animals themselves.
A long time ago:
To truly understand some aspects of furdom, you must look far back in history, to the stone age, where most religions were based on nature and the animals that were needed to survive, much like more modern day nature religions. Often these religions are based around a Shaman, who is the tribe's link to the spirits around them. Some times, this Shaman would take on the personality of an animal in a rite, and thus learn what the animal's desire was, and if it was right to take it for food and clothes, or if they should wait or take another one. Through this process of taking in the spirit of the animal into his own body, he would in the eyes of himself and his followers turn into that animal for some time, this anthropomorphisising the animal.
Religions throughout the world have beliefs that there are gods who are animals or anthropomorphisised animals, such as the Hindu elephant headed god, Ganesha and the ancient Egyptian jackal god, Anubis. Other religions have been closer to the Shamanist version, where a person takes on the attributes of an animal, such as for example the ancient Nordic Berserkers, where a person would drink mead infused with a poisonous mushroom and take on the attributes of a bear for some time and become suddenly furious in battle and strong as ten men, and be a match for as many in battle.
Most people today that describe themselves as furries would hesitate a long time to say that all of these people are not early furries, whether they described themselves as such or not.
In folklore, European, Asian and in many other places, anthropomorphisised animals have very often played a very large role. Take for example the story 'Puss in Boots', possibly the single most well known story about an animal taking on human attributes, which appears all over Eurasia and even further away. In other parts of the world other animals are more prominent. For example in Japan, where the Kitsuné is a many-tailed demonic fox that can change shape into a woman and then use this form to deceeve men into doing her will. Some people in furdom take on the personalities of, or believe themselves to be, demonic entities, for some reason or another, and often choose the Kitsuné.
Back in Europe the same kind of fear has been attributed to the werewolf (originally: var-ulf, ancient Germanic double word meaning man-wolf), a human who have either been cursed by a witch, or have brought it unto itself by creating a belt from human or wolf skin and put a spell on it, then wear it to become a werewolf. There is a subgroup of furries who do not like to call themselves furries, but in stead call themselves weres. They can, however, still be classified as furries, the same way Europeans, Africans, Americans, Australians and Asians are all classified as humans.
Some of the most loved novels through time, both in and outside of furdom, are furry. However important, only a few examples of these will be able to fit in a text like this, and so probably the most important of them would be 'The Wind in the Willows' in which the anthropomorphic characters Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad live out their every day lives. Others include 'Watership Down' about a group of rabbits being forced out of their home and trying to find their way to a better place.
As we get closer to modern day, we start to see anthroporphisised animals pop up in more and more places. Some of the best examples of syndicated furryness are Disney's and Warner Brothers' animation studios, where animals have been given human characteristics for over half a century. Who would not recognise a phrase like 'Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits!'. Chip, Dale, Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Baloo, Simba, Mufassa and all the other inhabitants of the Disney universe are all anthropomorphic animals, and can all be described as furries. Also, a lot of people interested in these characters have described themselves as being furries, thus potentially expanding the group thousand upon thousandfold.
Update: 26/06/2003: I have been informed of the existence of the comic book novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, a "Wrenching depiction of the Nazi holocaust, using mice to depict the Jews and cats as Nazis".
The furry fandom, where the term furdom as mentioned above originally stems from, is a very large group today. This is also possibly the most commercially viable part, since a lot of this is based around furry art (i.e. art depicting anthropomorphic characters). A very large quantity of online furry comics have surfaced over the years, including such comics as Sabrina Online, Suburban Jungle, Ozy and Millie and Get Fuzzy.
Also, more and more games are appearing with furry content, both paper based role playing games such as Ironclaw (whose slogan simply is 'Anthropomorphic Fantasy Role Playing') and the Paladium Games After The Bomb (a post-apocalyptic role-playing game with more or less anthropomorphic characters). Not only pen and paper role playing games have been the 'target', but also games such as Pokémon, in which anthropomorphisised animals fight against each other (even characters from Japanese mythology such as the Kitsuné have found their way into this game). Other games include the computer game Fur Fighters where anthropomorphic animals are pitted against each other in a Mortal Kombat style arena. One of the earliest computer games with reference to furries was the game 'Knightlore' in which you played a werewolf. It was released in 1984 for the Spectrum 48k and Spectrum +2/3.
Not only in virtual reality, but also in reality do furries unite and meet up. In real life many furries go to conventions, much like horticultural, sci-fi or computer conventions, where they meet up and share their interest with each other, be it fursuiting (see bellow), furry artwork or just plain meeting others with the same interest. Such conventions include EuroFurence, ConFURence and AnthroCon (others are listed on http://www.fur.com/furry/con.html).
Fursuiting has, since furdom became known to the larger public, suddenly taken on the appearance of being rather suspect and, well, sexually oriented, and that everyone who likes fursuiting are fetishists who want to bonk people wearing fursuits, be bonked by people wearing fursuits or bonk people while they are both wearing fursuits. This is, in fact, not true, as a quick look around the web will easily prove. The fursuiting mailing list has a lot of members, while the fursuit-yiff mailing list run by the same people (and originally started as a result of a request from people on the fursuit mailing list) have far less. Fursuits have a very large application in modern day, primarily in children's TV shows, amusement parks and at sports events, where fursuited people take on the personality of a furry character as mascots and play it out to amuse others.
Yiffing is a term applied almost as widely as the term furries itself. The word 'yiff' is in fact an onomatomoeticon for a fox' bark, but has since been adapted for use in the furry community as being a word to describe a situation where furries have sex, whether being online or offline. Often, online yiffing will be referred to as tiny-yiffing. Yiffing will happen in many different ways, some of which are more animal related than others. Before anyone starts claiming I am misleading them, yes, it is true that some furs like to engage in sexual activities with animals, but this, in furdom as well as outside, is not the norm. It is also true that some people like to have sex whilst wearing a fursuit or being body-painted or otherwise made up as animals, but this, too, is not the norm. The same thing goes for plushophiles (i.e. people attracted to plushies (stuffed animal toys)) and all other types of fetishism, as they exist in 'ordinary' society, so to do they exist in furdom. The way most furs yiff is rather like the way 'normal' people have sex, e.g. they undress, get into a bed and have a good roll around. So, the short version is: Yiffing is sex between furries. No more, no less.
Like so many other sub-groups in the world, furdom has found a refuge on the internet, where an ever growing number of web sites contain more or less child-safe stories, pictures and other information about people all around the world, as well as sites about the conventions mentioned above and many others.
Not only websites, but also in other places will you find furries. The online furry community started as a MUCK named FurryMUCK (which is still around and well) and an IRC channel on the network EFNet called #Furry, until it became the random target of the first generation of script kiddies, which, along with a severe lack of reliable services, drove the regular members of #Furry to create their own IRC network called YiffNet. Due to the exploits of a cracker in the furry community, in 2001, YiffNet was shattered. From that disaster, the current furry IRC network, FurNet, was formed. Not only as chat groups but also on usenet, in the newsgroups alt.fan.furry and alt.lifestyle.furry, where mainly American based furries started discussing things they considered furry, and indeed still do. This seemingly involves everything in the world, from sex to politics to fursuiting, to the more mundane things in life such as finances and housing.
When YiffNet was created, a channel called #alf was created for the users of the alt.lifestyle.furry newsgroup, where furries would go to do much the same thing as on the newsgroup. However, while the newsgroup slowly turned more and more hostile, the IRC channel has remained a refuge, where friendly people come to discuss politics, computers, fursuiting, bare footing and everything else that might interest people in the furdom. The furry IRC network has grown very large indeed, and more and more people are joining in.
As an extension to the section on historic religion earlier, a lot of furries have found their way into furdom by having a totem animal or animal spirit guide and searching for others with the same. Another thing that is rather important to point out at this point: Not all furs are what would be described as atheists or pagans, i.e. of 'alternate' faith. There are many furs out there who hail to the more mainstream religions such as Christianity, even though a lot are just like most people out there in the world: Not too bothered about it in their every day life.
Thank you for your time. During the production of this writeup, I have acquired assistance from three other furries, known as Lomax, Splithoof and Jenifur, and I would like to extend my gratitude to each of them at this point. Some sections would have been impossible without their help.
Also, here is a list of addresses that may be of interest to people who want to find out more about furries: