Medical technology allows people to change their bodies to match their identity. For Stalking Cat, that means becoming more like his totem animal, the tiger.

Stalking Cat, whose human name is Dennis Avner, said he’s always had an affinity towards cats, especially tigers. Avner, who goes by Cat, came to Western on March 5 as a guest speaker in the interdisciplinary monster’s class. He was joined by his friend, Tess the Red Pony.

Cat is a tall individual with a friendly, tiger-like grin. He tilted his head when listening, and scratched his face with long, purple claws.

“I generally relate to everything as a cat would tend to, or at least as a cat having to live in a modern world would,” he said.

Red and black striped tattoos cover Cat’s face and neck. He also has implants in the ridge of his nose and his eyebrows to change his profile. Other alterations include pointed ears, elongated lower earlobes, septum relocation, a cleft lip, silicone injections in his lips, about a dozen upper lip piercings for whisker mounts, metal fixed in his brow for mounting eyebrow whiskers, and filed teeth with incisor extensions.

“The teeth affect my speech a little bit,” Cat said. “I can’t eat soup with a soup spoon, it doesn’t fit through my teeth. I definitely don’t have an eating problem!”

Cat said he doesn’t want to know how much he spent on his body modifications.

Cat began altering his body late in the 1970s with aquatic and scale tattoos on his arms. As a former diving instructor and Navy submarine technician, he feels a connection with water, and tigers are aquatic cats that hunt from rivers. Cat said he was pushing the envelope with acceptable tattoos because back then few tattoo artists were willing to work past the wrist or on the face.

“I kind of had a direction all along, but I couldn’t find someone who wanted to do it,” he said.

It was challenging for Cat to find a professional willing to work on him because he believes most doctors want to maintain the status quo. Most of Cat’s modifications were done by 3D body artist, Steve Haworth.

Although Cat said his connection with tigers is spiritually driven, he is a member of the furry community, where he sits on panels at conventions.

“Furries are a group of people who have an association with anthropomorphic animals or just animals,” he said.

There will be a Stalking Cat action figure released in a few months.

Cat said he has no regrets about any of his transformations, which got him a spot on the television “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” In addition to paid appearances and guest-speaking, Cat sometimes works as a computer technician. Before his transformations, also has worked as a Navy submarine technician.

Cat’s companion, Tess, stressed that Cat is transforming his body for himself. She also said that he is a socialized but not a domestic tiger.

From Cat’s perspective as a Huron and Lakota Native American, he explained totems as spirit animals.

“[A totem is] a helper and protector who helps guide you through various points in your life, and helping you find your path and the direction you chose.”

Helper animals can change throughout a person’s life, according to Cat, to help him or her reach a final totem animal. He said it’s a Huron tradition for some individuals to alter their bodies to closer resemble their totem animals.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me I can’t have cats as a totem because I’m Native American,” said Cat. “There are lots of native cats, like bobcat, puma, cougar, mountain lion, North American jaguar.”

“The bottom line is everyone is native somewhere. It doesn’t matter where your people, your ancestors came from.”

Cat considers himself an empathic person, and is sometimes able to offer spiritual guidance to others.

“It’s great that I’ve found a niche in today’s society where I can still make a difference with some people in making them feel comfortable with who they are,” he said.