Campus Duke’s cat dies after being hit by a car

The peach was a symbol of Duke University's campus.

The peach was a symbol of Duke University’s campus.

Image courtesy of the Duke Chronicle.

Peach, a stray calico cat who found a cuddly home on the Duke University campus, died Wednesday after being hit by a car near the Animal Protection Society in Durham.

For more than a decade, students and professors have loved and cared for Peaches, which became a campus icon while residing near Keohane Quad on the West Campus. The students made a warm shelter, such as a miniature cat house, outside the dwelling so that the peaches would have a safe place to stay and eat during bad or cold weather.

“Duke was her home, and the students were her family,” said Carla Antonacchio, a retired Duke University professor of classical studies and art history. She started feeding Peaches and her cat companion Mamapin over 10 years ago.

Antonacio is parked near the quads where the cats are lounging. Every time they saw her, Peach would jump off the stone wall, run on her and roll at her feet in search of some nice scratches, a good stretch and a snack.

One day several years ago, Antonacchio found a litter of kittens with peaches and mammapen. I took her to neuter or spay her and brought the kittens home. I kept one, named Jack, and forever found homes for two more.

sweet as a peach

Peach and the Mamabean were friendly with anyone they met and weren’t particularly wild, as some of the cats on campus tended to be. While the calico cat has had a variety of names, including Lily and Snickers, Peaches have stuck because of their color and personality.

“It was sweet as a peach,” Antonacchio said.

Cats roamed the campus and nearby woods. A few years later, the students took the initiative to book the kittens and take them to the vet for cutting and vaccinating them.

The peach was a symbol of Duke University’s campus. Caroline Chang Image courtesy of the Duke Chronicle.

Peaches has become more than just a friendly cat to be greeted on campus. I became a family member.

“She was a truly wonderful cat and totally irreplaceable. She has brought joy to so many people,” Duke graduate Anna Lee told The Chronicle. “There may not be another cat in the world that I love so dearly and so loved by so many people.”

Lee got a call on Wednesday from the Animal Protection Society in Durham and shared the news with the Facebook group Caretakers of Peaches (The Calico Cat), which has more than 2,000 members. Lee helped set up the group in 2017 and the students together raised nearly $2,000 for veterinary treatment and maintained a continuity of care even as some graduated.

There was an outpouring of grief and personal stories from students and alumni in the Facebook group describing how the Peaches provided stress relief and helped them get through their Duke years.

“Peach and Mamabean just captured these students,” Antonacchio said.

“It’s really touching,” she said.

“Independent but loving soul”

Peaches began wandering around a lot last summer and were picked up several times across Main Street and away from campus, which worried Antonio. She said the pandemic really disrupted the cats’ lives because they didn’t have the same amount of companionship or interest on campus.

Someone brought peaches to the Animal Protection Association. But she walked out on Wednesday, which is the time employees saw the incident, according to Antonaccio.

“She was an independent but loving soul,” Antonacchio said.

A group of her caretakers arranged for her to be cremated as they planned a memorial service.

Duke University Campus April 2020
A famous calico cat named Peaches has roamed the Duke University campus for more than a decade. Bill Snead Duke University

This story was originally published August 18, 2022 6:42 pm.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she has covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the Investigation Team, Projects, and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky, and she was recently selected as a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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