Dennis Avner was once a normal young man who lived a normal life. But 25 years ago he underwent a change; a change so drastic that he began transforming himself into a tiger.
Today he’s tattooed in tiger stripes from head to toe, his teeth are filed to a point and he has fangs. His ears are spiked, his nails are long and claw-like, his lip is now cleft and he has metal studs implanted above his upper lip and on his forehead to anchor nylon whiskers to his feline face. Dennis Avner is now known as ‘Cat’.
But Cat’s obsession is not unique. Twenty four-year-old Beki, or ‘Leopard Girl’, has so far had 15 sessions’ worth of leopard spots tattooed over her body and one day hopes to get her ears spiked. And then there’s Eric Sprague who, in his quest to turn himself into a lizard, has had his tongue forked and his whole face and body tattooed in scales.
But not all animal imitators undergo major body modifications to closer resemble their chosen animal. Snap, Wolf and Coyote are content with just dressing up in fur suits and howling or running round the streets interacting with shoppers.
The one thing that all these people do have in common is that they all believe they are another species trapped inside a human body — a phenomenon called trans-species — and they are only content with themselves when they are mimicking their animal.
But what drives these people to endure the excruciating pain involved with transforming themselves to such extremes? Animal Imitators sets out to discover just what makes these mimickers tick and tries to understand their devotion to their ‘animal’ ? to the point that they are willing to physically distort their bodies to reach the desired effect.
By entering the world of the animal imitators, we join them as they carry out their day-to-day lives and witness the reactions they get from the general public. We also hear the explanation behind their commitment to modifying their body to such extremes and how they feel when they adopt their animal’s behaviour.
We then meet the ‘artist’ who, despite having no medical training, is able to perform these complex body modifications without the use of anaesthetic, and learn why he enjoys creating his works of ‘art’ on human canvases. To hear the other side of the argument, we speak to a leading plastic surgeon and investigate why the medical community believe these cosmetic changes are unethical.
To understand where this obsession of imitating animals originates, the programme looks to an anthropologist who turns back time to trace the tradition, and meets a psychiatrist who attempts to explain why these people are so desperate to transform themselves in whatever way possible.