Cat lovers on campus unite to care for stray calicos

Students, alumni, staff, faculty, retirees, and Duke parents form a FaceBook group for Peaches and MamaBean.

Peaches the cat, relaxing on Duke's campus

She usually sits on top of her house, or she runs around in the grass,” says Jonas Meksem. On an early fall day, the junior stopped by to visit Peaches the Calico Cat on his way to Pitchfork’s, a campus eatery. Meksem peeked inside her cat home.

No Peaches.

“I try to make visiting Peaches a part of my daily walk,” says Meksem. “It’s great because she’s everyone’s pet, and everyone gets to take care of her.”

The cat started her Duke life in 2016 as an untamed and unnamed stray. Some students and faculty created their own names for the homeless cat, and helped her when they could.

“I have always had stray or feral cats and feel responsible for them,” says Choro Carla Antonaccio, professor emerita of classical studies. She was one of the first on campus to help the stray cat. “They are domesticated animals that have shown up on my doorstep because someone didn’t want them or keep them safe.”

Most folks who spotted the stray referred to her simply as “the calico cat.” Anna Li ’18 did the same. In the fall of 2016, Li was walking on West Campus when she spotted the calico relaxing regally on the quad, indifferent to the semester’s deadlines.

“She used to follow me around campus, waiting outside while I got food from Pitchfork’s and staring at me from the window until I brought it back out to share with her,” says Li. “We went on strolls in Duke Gardens together, and she’d just follow me.”

That winter, the temperature dropped below freezing and Li worried about her new friend. She started a Facebook group, as an organized effort to assist the small cat and a larger calico, believed to be her sister or mother. A poll on Facebook provided the name “Peaches.” One caretaker, Anna Matthews ’19, named the larger calico “Mamabean.” The Facebook group, Caretakers of Peaches (The Calico Cat), also attends to more crucial matters.

“I thought it was going to be a group of maybe ten nerdy cat lovers or something, but the group really exploded. It has about 1,600 members now,” says Li.

Volunteers and donors—a collection of students, alumni, staff, faculty, retirees, and even some Duke parents—have provided two heated cat homes, food, water bowls, and funds for veterinary care. Although she now lives in Seattle with her cat “Kitty,” Li continues to organize and advise the Facebook group, while group administrators in Durham, like senior Emmy Mariner, are hands on. Mariner transports Peaches and Mamabean to a veterinary clinic for vaccinations and responds to emergencies. Cat colony care groups across campus work together by sharing information. They collaborate with Independent Animal Rescue, which operates a spay and neuter program. Matthews and other caretakers also organize off-campus homes for Peaches and Mamabean when hurricanes blow through, like Dorian in early September. It’s a lot of work, but Mariner says as much as students help the cats, the cats give much more in return.

“As students we spend a lot of time neglecting our own mental and physical health and constantly putting ourselves in very stressful situations and competitive patterns,” says Mariner. “When you stop and slow that down and try to take care of something other than yourself, it makes it all simpler and a lot less stressful.”

Peaches has become a feline cause célèbre. People magazine wrote about her. A Duke Chronicle 2018 student poll named her one of the 18 Most Influential People at Duke. The People article led to an increase in donations when Mamabean needed emergency surgery. But funds are low again, and caretakers started a new GoFundMe campaign in September.

Meksem eventually found Peaches as she napped beneath the shade of a fraternity bench, sheltered by a small tree, her heated cat house in view, just outside the doors of Keohane. He bent down and gently stroked her cheek. Peaches stretched, opened her eyes briefly in acknowledgement, and then repositioned her chin on her left paw, showing small, pink pads. She returned to napping. Unbothered. Content.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor