Last week, a tiny goblin creature took a ride on the New York City subway system. Wearing a khaki jacket and high-top sneakers that matched those of the mysterious man holding him, the small, werewolf-faced monster was apparently plucked from one of the commuter’s bags and propped atop his knee. An incredulous bystander tweeted a photo of the horrifying twin situation, and the internet collectively freaked out.
What was this demon doll born from the most twisted of commuter nightmares?
“They’re called werepups,” writer Nathan Steinmetz tweeted in response. “And its [sic] a brave new world once you fall down this rabbithole.”
Well, first things first, Nathan. The little guy on the subway was not actually a WerePup, but a cousin beast of sorts: a Gakman Creature, or a breed of hyperrealistic collectibles meant to look, as WerePups do, like a supernatural baby. And I will be taken to task for making this same grave mistake shortly.
Nevertheless, Steinmetz was dead on about WerePups opening up a rabbit hole, filled with childhood dreams, hand-rooted whiskers and dog-human hybrid genitalia. And for alerting me to this terrifying and utterly fascinating world, I thank Steinmetz with all my WerePup-loving heart. It was his tweet of misinformation that introduced me to Asia Nicole Charity.
For almost eight years, the 34-year-old artist and horror buff has painstakingly crafted WerePups, born entirely of her imagination. What started as a personal dream has since blossomed into an unlikely livelihood, producing a tight-knit community of humans looking to adopt tiny, brutish doppelgangers.
Charity and I spoke on the phone about all things WerePups ― from their origin story to their private parts. Read on if you dare.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
First things first. Where exactly does a WerePup land on the dog-to-human spectrum?
WerePups are a little bit more on the dog side than werewolves themselves. They have more puppy-like qualities. I like the idea that a werewolf as a baby would be cute, like a puppy. A little bit cute, a little bit scary.
When did you first start thinking about these creatures?
I’m a huge dog lover. I grew up very secluded ― I was home-schooled ― and all my best friends were my dogs. I’ve also always had a fascination with human-animal crossovers: Zoobilee Zoo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that kind of thing. But werewolves always stuck out to me.
They look so realistic. How did you go about designing a being that doesn’t actually exist?
I think I just made them as I saw them in my head. I wanted them to look scientifically possible. Like, if these were really things in the real world, what would they look like? I think they have more dog in them than a lot of werewolves. They have a straight-up dog nose. I really like dog’s noses. But they have human baby-shaped heads. And the ears are low-set, which is uncommon for werewolves. Mine are more like baby ears.
Just to clarify, is a WerePup the child of a dog and a werewolf?
WerePups have their own backstory. I developed a character named Dr. Baxter who creates them in a laboratory. He fell in love with a werewolf woman many years ago, in the 1930s. Except the woman is not a woman that turns into a wolf, but a wolf that turns into a woman. Together they had one child: half-human, half-wolf. Then, out of his obsession, Dr. Baxter creates a new species, the little WerePups. They’re a bit of him, a bit of his son and a bit of the domestic dog.
OK, so tell me about the process of making your very first WerePup.
Years ago, I used to glue hair on dolls to try to realize this thing I had in my head, but it never worked out right. My husband, Anders Eriksen, has been into special effects for 25 years now. One day I said, “If I sculpt something, can you make me a mold of it?” I used some of his clay, he did a plaster mold, and we cast it in latex. That was the first baby WerePup. I posted a few pictures on Facebook and people really responded. I took some to a horror convention and we sold out. I was like, there are more crazy people like me who want a baby WerePup.
The original ones were $65. They had sculpted fur, sort of like rubber baby dolls. Now I make them from silicone, much higher quality, and they’re $650. I have to sit and hand-root all the hairs. Depending on the order, it can take me a month just to make one.
Do customers usually give specific directions about what they want their WerePup to look like?
Typically, people have a vision. Some want it to look like their dog, or like a combination of them and their partner, as if they actually had a baby werewolf together.
Do you devise a personality for each of them?
They’re pretty much a combination between a baby and a puppy, maybe a little more mischievous. They like to get into trouble. They pee on the floor, chew your shoes. They make a sound that’s in between a baby’s cry and a little puppy whine ― that cute little half-whine, half-growl.
Can you talk a little about the WerePup’s anatomy? Specifically, what’s going on in their genital area?
It’s basically my take on what werewolf parts would look like. Just a cross between a puppy and a human baby.
You know how puppies are a little more ― how do I say this? A puppy’s wee-wee is a little more on the belly? There are things like that. I’ve had people comment that it was cute. The females too, their part leans a little more toward female dog than human. But they’re more attached to the body where the female dog is free-hanging a bit.
I also read that you add real whiskers to the WerePup from your pitbull?
I used to, yes, but he passed away. His name was Baxter, like Dr. Baxter. He would put his big face on my lap while I would sculpt the noses. He had white and brindle hair I would take his shed hair and use them as whiskers. He was a great dog. We used the first sales of the WerePups to rescue him, because he was infested with heartworms. We cranked a bunch of them out and we managed to pay for his treatment and get him good and healthy. He was a good boy.
What did Baxter think of the WerePups?
He would wag his tail and sniff them. He definitely noticed after I put on some of his fur. Some customers have sent me some of their dog’s hair too, and he loved that. I made one with the shed hair of a wolf. He went nuts over it. I had to keep it far, far away.
Do most customers find you through the horror scene?
The funny thing is, I started out in the special effects horror industry but really crossed over into reborn dolls. I didn’t even know what reborning was. Someone directed me to a reborn doll forum and when I saw this art ― of making really lifelike babies ― it was spectacular. Mostly they’re human babies, and you wouldn’t be able to tell them from real babies. But there are also artists doing alternative reborns ― zombies, vampires, mermaids, fairies. I got sucked into the industry. It’s been pretty cool.
I was looking into reborns online and learned that many people buy the dolls to help cope with the loss of a child?
That is the case for some of my customers. I don’t even like calling them customers because we become like family. We have groups on Facebook where we share pictures. Some did have miscarriages or are unable to have children. Sometimes they provide a comfort item for people with anxieties ― like a therapy dog. Sometimes they can be good icebreakers in social situations. Other people just love babies. They like to dress them up in cute baby clothes.
Do people treat them like real babies?
In the media I’ve seen reborn doll collectors portrayed in a crazy light. I don’t like that. They don’t think the dolls are real. A lot of the stories are actually really touching. This one woman, Yvette, who is now my best friend, was going through cancer and her friend purchased a WerePup for her as a surprise. It was so emotional for both of us. She took the WerePup through chemo with her. It was a nice comfort item to have. Everyone in the hospital would fawn over her WerePup because it was different. We’ve become like sisters. Every time I saw a picture of her going through what she was going through with Elias ― that’s the WerePup ― I tear up. It’s amazing to me that something I made could bring comfort in such a dark time.
Do you stay in touch with all your WerePups after they go off with their new families?
I want to keep up with every single one. I have a great, close-knit network of people that send me photos of the babies out and about. We call the group our pack ― the WerePups Pack.
You mention on your website getting angry letters from animal rights activists. They really think the WerePups are real?
People were saying, “You can’t combine an animal and a human to make a new species! What’s wrong with you?” I think it has to do with the whole Dr. Baxter’s laboratory thing. But we’re all about animal rights. We love our pets.
Do you get hate from anyone else?
I’ve had religious groups saying it’s blasphemy, bestiality.
I was mating a person and a dog.
Do you ever cry when it’s time to say goodbye to a WerePup?
No, I get pretty attached to quite a few of them, but the only thing that’s made me cry are some of the testimonies. I never expected in a million years that my childhood dream of making werewolf babies would mean so much to people.
Did you see the photo of a WerePup riding the subway that went viral last week?
Yes, but it’s not a WerePup. It’s a different design of werewolf baby. They’re called Gakman Creatures. It’s frustrating for them to be misidentified as mine. I don’t want to take credit for someone else’s work. It’s very important for me to say this isn’t my brand.
Does it bother you when people are creeped out by WerePups? This particular tweet called the WerePup Gakman Creature a “fucking goblin.”
I like when people are freaked out by them. I think it’s fantastic. I used to walk around Philly with one and carry it like a baby. We’d have people run across the street screaming, thinking it was a real creature.
Has anyone said something about the WerePups to your face?
There was this one woman, thinking about her makes me want to laugh and cry. She said, “He’s a creature of God. God loves him the way he is.” Then she held my hand and prayed with me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. It was so sweet. It was nice to know there was somebody out there that cared so much.
Wow, that’s really sweet and bizarre.
But then you also hear people say things like, “What was wrong with that lady’s baby?” People think I don’t hear them, but I do. For me it’s funny, but sometimes I think about people who really do have something different going on and how they feel. It’s interesting to see how people react when they see something different.
Do you ever dream about WerePups?
I did a lot when I was a kid. Now most of my dreams are honestly nightmares about being stressed out not finishing them on time. A typical “day at the office” dream!
Are there any creatures, real or imagined, that genuinely freak you out?
I really hate centipedes. If you combined a centipede and a human I’d probably cry. I don’t like them at all. I can’t with them, too many legs.