Some of Kenyon’s favorite felines — the kittens who lived in the pipe between Caples and Mather Residence Halls — can no longer be seen romping in the grass and peeking from their tubular home.
The “pipe cats,” as they were known around campus, were beloved by many students, particularly by those who live on north campus and saw them frequently on their way to and from class. Over October Break, three of the four kittens that lived in the pipe were adopted by Part-Time Custodian Shelby Bateman and Custodian Sherry Smith; the fourth kitten has been missing for a number of weeks.
Custodian Linda Beck has been looking out for the pipe cats since the beginning. Before the pipe cats first emerged, she found three stray adult cats last March and began feeding them. One of the cats went missing, and when it finally reappeared it was incredibly skinny. Beck was highly concerned and thought the cat needed medicine to treat worms, but in reality it was pregnant. The cat gave birth to kittens, and thus the pipe cats were born.
Beck fed the cats often with canned food, Meow Mix, Friskies and their absolute favorite meal, chicken alfredo. Every morning when Beck came into work, Monday through Friday, the kittens would be waiting at the one of the doors of Mather, peering through the glass, and watching as Beck prepared their food.
The kittens were very attuned to the sound of Beck’s voice, and she frequently summoned them with her “cat call.”
Sometimes students waited by the pipe and attempted to coax them out, but they would be unsuccessful until Beck called the cats. “I could come down, and I could be walking and I could just say ‘Where are my boys?’” she said. “And they would shoot out of that pipe. And the kids were like ‘How did you do that?’”
Benjamin Gross ’19 heard about the pipe cats at the end of his first year when he lived in Mather, but didn’t see them until this semester. He often spotted them on his way to class or on his way back to Caples, where he lives this year, and usually glimpsed them twice a week.
“I liked taking pictures of them,” he said. “They do the cutest things, and they’re really adorable.” He used to sit down and wait for them to approach him, because if he advanced they would run away.
When Laurel Waller ’19 first interacted with the pipe cats, she remembered someone had left a toy, so she sat and played with the cats for two hours that day. She began feeding them often — normally she gave them canned cat food — and interacted with them essentially every day, except when their mother took them elsewhere on campus. Waller called the pipe kittens “very much a community thing,” because so many people who live in the adjacent dorms interacted frequently with them.
“Laurel takes much pride in those cats,” said Gross, who lives across the hall from Waller. “So sometimes when I’m walking with her, she can get the cats to come to her a lot more easily than I can.”
As for their new homes, Waller feels the move is a loss but acknowledged the cats are much safer in a home than in the pipe.
“It’s sad, but they’re definitely in a safer place than they would be here on campus, given weather and other conditions,” she said. “Especially since the pipe is located near the roundabout where all the cars are parked and driving and whatnot.”
Beck had a hand in the cats’ adoption, as she was concerned about how cold it would get as winter approached. Luckily Bateman and Smith both wanted cats; Smith adopted two and Bateman took one. The fourth kitten hasn’t been seen for a number of weeks, according to Beck, but she believes it is still on campus somewhere and is possibly living by the science quad. The three that were adopted are adjusting well to their new homes.
“I miss them, I think the students miss them,” Beck said. “I mean there were students out here that would sit for hours petting them.”
Clare Livingston ’18, who lived in Caples last year and often took care of the pipe cats, is currently studying abroad in Scotland and was unaware they had been adopted.
“It breaks my heart a little bit … but that’s really great they got adopted,” she said.
Livingston frequently fed the cats and even provided them with some of her clothes: First, she stuffed a pair of pajama pants into the pipe to keep them warm at the beginning of spring semester last year, and then switched that out for a sweatshirt of hers. She had intended on removing the sweatshirt to wash once it became dirty, but she figures they just pulled it into the pipe because she never saw it again.
The pipe cats brought the communities of Caples and Mather together, as students and staff took collective responsibility for the kittens. The grassy stretch between the dorms will never be the same, but the memory of those playful kittens will live on.
“I’m glad that people knew they were there,” Livingston said. “They added such a charm to the Caples area.”