Graves: No, 'furries' are not getting litterboxes in Mitchell

The first time I heard this, I laughed out loud. Nobody would do that and nobody would believe it. Except they did.

Joe Graves.jpg
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It will hopefully come as no surprise to you that I am a great fan of school. And not just because it is my profession or that it is something a school administrator has to say. I am, more so, because I enjoy school. I love learning from people with expertise in the field. I like reading the literature on the subjects of the various classes. I even like reading some textbooks.

But one of the benefits of not actually attending school is that you can read up on any subject you like. When you are enrolled in a class, you have to devote a lot of your time to the assigned reading, to the detriment or even exclusion of reading what you want.

Back in the 1990s, after finishing up a degree program, I found that my reading time had opened up and I immersed myself into the subject of folklore, all those stories in a culture which are fictional but also kind of not. Fables, fairy tales, even parables are fictional stories told with a purpose, with a message.

One of the sub-genres that I found most interesting in folklore at the time was urban legends. An urban legend is one of those believable stories, usually told to you by a friend or family member as factual and having been heard by them from a friend of a friend. Popular ones include the stolen kidney, the phone call coming from inside the house, the hook man, the pet dog that turns out to be a rat, etc. It really is interesting reading and I will freely admit that I came upon some that I had previously believed as true accounts. Hey, a sucker really is born every minute.

I revisited my interest in the topic or urban legends when I watched one spring forth, sort of out of whole cloth and with a surprising resistance to correction. I would call this newborn urban legend the "furry."


Originally, furries were simply anthropomorphized cartoon characters with both human and animal traits — most Disney and Warner Brothers characters, but usually those which transgress the lines more visibly, even creepily. "Furries" also described people who are fascinated by such characters.

More recently, though, the term began being applied to people who were said to identify as a different species. In part, this was a slippery slope argument against transgenderism. In part, it was part of the tendency of people to, having pushed one boundary, push yet another.

Then the urban legend took over and it began being widely believed that lots of people, especially teenagers, were becoming furries. Signs of such might include the wearing of headbands with animal ears protruding, vocalizing barks or meows. But, of course, none of that really typified the notion of a furry since such headbands had been around for years and people often engage in odd vocalizations. (Tim Allen on Home Improvement, for example.)

What caused people to stand up and take notice, rather, was the urban legend of the public restroom litter box. It was shared, as if absolutely true, that schools and other institutions were laying out litter boxes or even being required to lay out little boxes in their restrooms. The first time I heard this, I laughed out loud. Nobody would do that and nobody would believe it. Except they did. Then I began hearing hushed stories that a school to the east of us was absolutely doing it. Then the school moved to the far west. Then I attended a meeting of the larger school superintendents last month where a colleague of mine explained that a relative of his knew this was happening in Mitchell. I told him I had heard the same thing of his district and we both engaged in some eye-rolling, followed by laughter.

In case you’ve heard this of any school in South Dakota, take it from me — that friend of a friend was no friend of yours. It isn’t happening.

Don’t believe me? Give me a call or stop by my office. I’ll show you any restroom in the District you care to visit. And if you find a litterbox, I’ll personally clean it up.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Palace City Profiles is an ongoing series of community members’ stories, introducing us to our neighbors and the personalities that call Mitchell home. If you have suggestions for individuals or families with a great story, please contact Karen Whitney at 996-1140 or