Eight years ago, BeltLine Piper T. Cat found her forever home. Her companions, John and Danah Craft recently reflected on their 12-year-old social media star’s journey and lessons she taught them along the way.
“So many people loved and cared for Piper when she was living in her pipe,” Danah said. “It would be great to let them know that she is very spoiled and content. Her little face whiskers are starting to get white and she has gotten a little hard of hearing but is still very spry and active. We’ve loved having her.”
In November 2012, the Crafts noticed a black cat living in a pipe along the Eastside BeltLine trail near North Avenue.
“At first, all you could see was the color of her eyes back in the pipe,” John said. “Over time, she got a little less fearful of people.”
By mid-February 2013, the Tilley family put up a mailbox for the feral feline with a street address (640 North Avenue) and her name. Soon after, the Crafts noticed a Valentine in Piper’s mailbox.
“I took a few pictures of Danah holding the Valentine with the cat in the background,” John said.
As they walked home John decided “this cat needs a Twitter account.” So, @beltlinepiper tweeted the photo and tagged BeltLine visionary, Ryan Gravel, who forwarded it on. Piper quickly went viral on Twitter and Facebook, attracting local and national media attention.
“People started leaving food and water,” Danah said. “She became socialized because people were stopping and talking to her, petting her and feeding her. We would pet her on our walks every day and she would trot after us.”
But the BeltLine residence would be short lived. That summer, Perennial Properties was ready to construct the 755 North building, so the famous kitty had to move.
“This was happening as my mother was in the hospital for the last time,” John said. “Danah came home and said, ‘I don’t think I could lose your mom and Piper in the same month.’ So, I reluctantly agreed to adopt Piper. I thought she would hang out in the backyard and sleep on the back porch sometimes. And I have never been happier to be so very wrong.”
The screened back porch helped Piper transition to her new digs.
“It was outside. There was still fresh air. She slept in John’s lap the first day,” Danah said. “The first time it rained you could tell she was like ‘this is sort of cool, it’s raining but I’m not getting wet.’”
After a few weeks, she ventured inside and burrowed under a guest bed in between boxes.
“That became her pipe – her safe place,” Danah said. “I learned so much from her. She wasn’t so scared that she wasn’t willing to take a risk in case something new was better. She doesn’t go in there anymore because nothing frightens her.”
Over the years, Piper regularly checked in with her followers. At the five-year mark, John posted on @beltlinepiper: “Piper’s life consists of sleeping in the sun, forcing her head under our hands when she wants petting, getting a little something under the table during meals, and waking me up for belly rubs in the middle of the night. She has trained us very well.”
Like all of us, Piper hunkered down during COVID-19. Her March 14, 2020 post at facebook.com/BeltLinePiper provided encouragement. “OK America, I’m stocked up. Let’s do this for the vulnerable. No handshakes, #pawbumps only. Check on your family, friends, and those who need you. #socialdistancing.”
Piper also made Zoom appearances as Danah, Executive Director of the Food Bank Association, worked to support the food banks responding to food insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We think people who need emergency food assistance because of the pandemic are going to need it for about 18 more months,” Danah said. “That’s what we saw coming out of the recession. A lot of the families that normally need our help are in greater need and we are still seeing people who are coming to the network for the first time, who don’t qualify for food stamps but lost their jobs.”
Danah is grateful for the ongoing support from state and federal partners, philanthropy and the community.
“The thing about Piper’s story is that she inspired a community on the BeltLine that came together to take care of her,” Danah said. “To me that’s the tie in to food banking. It is about local communities taking surplus food and helping their neighbors who are in need.”