By Pam Surano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Furry gatherings are popular worldwide, but in Pittsburgh, the love of the costume-clad creatures has reached a whole new level of notoriety.

The annual convention of Anthropomorphic creatures — walking, talking animals exhibiting human qualities — began meeting yearly in the city in 2006.

“We produce our own characters and our own material, and people become fans of each other,” says Anthrocon organizer K.P.

It’s now in its 14th year in Pittsburgh.

Organizers say it’s a creative outlet that has caught on. And in today’s social media driven world, it keeps growing.

“It’s huge. This year is $8.9 million coming into the local economy,” says Kristen Wenger, communications director for Visit Pittsburgh.

By the looks of the long registration line at the convention center, the thousands of attendees and fans pull in big dollars: Hotels, restaurants, attractions all get a payout.

But Anthrocon organizers say there’s another reason that drives people to adopt a creative persona — one that’s found underneath the costume.

“We were the skinny kid that never really got picked at recess. We were the fat kid that may have been picked on a little bit too much at school,” explains K.P.  “We were that brainy kid that everyone wanted to cheat off of, but nobody ever wanted to invite to parties.”

Now the furries turn heads wherever they go. The Anthrocon convention boasts lavish nightly dances and tour-guided boat rides on the Gateway Clipper.

Many turn those past childhood experiences into something wonderful.

“When you could put a smile on a terminally ill child’s face — that is a heart-wrenching moment that you can’t forget. And that keeps the passion going,” says Sniffer Husky, an Anthrocon attendee.

It’s also about establishing a fresh start, explains K.P.

“We are creating dogs, lemurs, folves — which is a fox-wolf character — and all kinds of other animals. And they’re brand new,” the organizer says. “They have never experienced racism, hatred, bigotry.”

And that’s one of the reasons why Visit Pittsburgh says Anthrocon is so adored in the city — where the words “won’t you be my neighbor” and “stronger than hate” are spoken.

“I think it’s just in our nature. And the mayor and the county executive, they always are preaching a welcoming message,” says Wenger. “We’re following in their footsteps.”

Every state and 20 countries are represented at Anthrocon. Those underneath the suits include politicians, members of the military, a Pittsburgh firefighter and the CFO of a Fortune 500 Company.

If you want to meet the furries, the big parade begins on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown. A meet and greet will follow.