Requiem for the Pirate Cat: Family and residents honor local celebrity feline with bronze memorial

Pirate lore speaks of a swashbuckling feline that once roamed the high grasses of the notorious Marion and Hamilton County border. A hornswoggling thief of scratches, belly rubs, bed and drink as he slipped and stalked his way down Indy’s Monon Trail. A four-legged marauder who called home to whichever way the wind blew. 

Those who crossed his path and the thousands around the world knew him as Pirate Cat. Sunday he was given a buccaneer’s farewell with stories of plunder and a cat-sized memorial.

Pirate Cat became the furry friend to the bikers, joggers and walkers along the stretch of the Monon Trail at 96th St. northward, but he was once the Christmas present for Matt Grufeda’s family. 

“We adopted him from FACE downtown, which is the low cost spay,” Grufeda said.

Soon, Grufeda and Pirate Cat’s mom Amanda Cancilla discovered he wasn’t destined for indoor life. Over the next three years he would make his way across a busy 96th Street to roam the Monon and the nearby United States Tennis Association complex with only one known traffic incident.

“He did get hit once but it was really mild. He just got scraped,” Canilla said.

Pirate Cat’s incursions into Hamilton County soon became local legend as he would be lost and found, then lost and found again in area homes and businesses. One Pirate Cat retrieval came all the way from Noblesville. 

During this period, Canilla started a Facebook page for Pirate Cat that grew to over seven thousand followers from as far away as Iceland and Hong Kong. Pirate Cat exploits also earned him a GPS monitor after run-ins with law enforcement. At one time, the feral feline had to retain legal counsel.

One day Pirate Cat was discovered in poor condition and on April 6, 2020, he was euthanized. Soon after the cat’s death, Canilla started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a memorial. Through crowdfunding, Canilla was able to raise over $11,000 of the total $12,000 needed for the piece.

Amanda Canilla eulogizes Pirate Cat. (Photo by Ron Hanson)

The original plan was to place a bronze statue and granite base memorial at the 96th Street entrance to the Monon, but the Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation department rejected the request. 

After the rejection, the United States Tennis Association, adjacent to the Monon, offered space on their complex where Pirate Cat was known to frequent.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain filled the day but let up long enough for more than 50 of Pirate Cat’s closest friends and family to pay tribute and see for the first time his bronze legacy. Nadine Treon flew in from Durham, North Carolina, but almost didn’t make it.

 

Steve Gibbs looks on at Pirate Cats memorial. (Photo by Ron Hanson)

 

“I was supposed to take a 6 a.m. flight, and it got cancelled. I was going to miss my connection and I said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I have to be in Indianapolis for this 3 o’clock showing,’” Treon said.

With more rain looming, the ceremony was kept brief followed by a spreading of Pirate Cat’s ashes on the Monon. Vinnie Grufeda eulogized Pirate Cat in the way only an 11-year-old could honor his pet.

Frankie Grufeda, 8, spreads Pirate Cat’s ashes on the Monon Trail. (Photo by Ron Hanson)

“Pirate Cat was a good cat. We got him for Christmas from FACE. I loved that he went to the Monon and was always exploring. He had a great time over there. He was a brave cat and a kind cat,” Grufeda said.

In Pirate speak they say, “Dead men tell no tales.” With Pirate Cat’s memorial, his legend will live on.

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