When Anna Li first heard of the white calico cat that roamed Duke’s campus in 2016, she was jealous.
Jealous, because her roommate had seen a stray cat outside of their Edens dorm and she had not. That cat would become known as Peaches and would befriend Li, Trinity ‘18, and countless other Duke students until her death last Wednesday when she was hit by a car.
It was Li’s love of cats that first led her on a long goose chase to find Duke’s resident stray.
When Li went out to find the cat, it was gone. About a week later, Li found Peaches again, sitting by some bushes near Edens. This is where Li and Peaches' close friendship began.
“I just did the thing where I sat down and waited for [Peaches] to come to me. She was a little bit cautious at first and then she came up, and then as soon as we connected, she was like, ‘Okay, this person's safe,’” Li said.
“She climbed into my lap and started meowing and purring, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
The two grew closer during the beginning of Li’s junior year. They took walks in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and Peaches often patiently waited for Li to grab food from Pitchfork’s or Bella Union, joining her while she ate outside. But after winter break, Peaches was nowhere to be seen.
Li worried that something bad might have happened. She knew a few other students who had also been taking care of Peaches, so she decided to coordinate with them about the cat’s care. Thus, the “Caretakers of Peaches” Facebook group was born in 2017.
Students first, and later alumni and others with an interest in Peaches, joined the group.
“I totally thought it'd be like just a few other nerd cat lovers,” Li said. “And it really took off. And I realized how loved she was.”
Peaches remained cherished over the years, going from stray cat to campus icon. She was even featured in People magazine. Li recalled that she was eating lunch with Peaches at the time when the photographers came by.
“Just seeing this campus come together over this little stray cat and seeing her make such an impact, I think it really changed how I see the world too,” Li said.
But despite her growing popularity, Li said that Peaches made everyone who met her feel loved. It was because of this that Peaches had such a large impact on the Duke community, according to Li.
“Peaches has this wonderful ability to make you feel like you're special and you are seen even when you're one of thousands of people that adore her,” Li recalled.
Sloane Satow, Trinity ‘22, who first met Peaches during Blue Devil Days and eventually became one of her primary caretakers, agreed with Li. Satow said that even if someone hadn’t interacted with Peaches much, she was always friendly towards them. If they weren’t a cat person, Peaches made them “change [their] mind about that.”
“I have a couple friends who are not really huge cat people, they're more dog people,” Satow said. “But they also always got so excited when we saw Peaches.”
In the days following her death, several members memorialized Peaches through art, photos, videos and personal stories on the group Li created, now over 2,000 members strong.
“It just goes to show that [Peaches] really impacted a lot of people in a positive way, and that she really was part of the community,” Satow said.
“I think a lot of people drew a lot of comfort from her,” Li said. “I think she also just embodied and showed us the spirit of unconditional love and kindness and also adventure.”
It was that spirit of adventure that sometimes got Peaches in trouble, and led her early caretakers to conversation about whether or not to formally adopt her and take her home.
“One time, everyone was in a panic because she jumped into a drain,” Li recalled.
As time went on, those conversations dissipated. They felt that Peaches would be happiest as a free, outdoor cat, despite the safety risk.
Peaches had taken to wandering off campus over the summer, and someone brought her to the Animal Protection Society of Durham, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. On Wednesday, she got out of APS and was hit by a car, which killed her immediately.
Even though it was on one of those adventures that she died, Peaches’ caretakers find comfort in knowing that she was able to explore.
“She loved her life,” Li said. “She loved walking the students to the library…she loved going on adventures. She was always her wild, adventurous, loving self until the very end.”
They also take comfort in knowing that just as the University community loved Peaches, Peaches in turn loved being among the Duke community. Despite being free to go wherever she pleased, Peaches chose to make her home in the overhang outside of Keohane 4B.
“[Peaches] was not forced to stay around the terrible buzzing of leaf blowers or rumbling of construction for nearly a decade,” wrote senior Colin Bernstein on the Facebook group. “Yet, she chose to stay with us for the majority of her life. She blessed us with her presence every day.”
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Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.