A Tolbert Area resident has enjoyed the luxury of a cozy bed, an abundance of food, constant attention and plenty of time to bask in the sun free of charge for at least three years.
Tenders, the campus cat, reels UF students in with her loveable personality and undeniable charm. She is one of many cats who occupies UF’s campus and garners attention through online posts, and she has amassed popularity among the entire UF community from her humble beginning to her legacy today.
Students can rest assured that Tenders will live a long, healthy life after being spayed about a year ago.
During her last semester in college, Rachel Wolf, a 22-year-old UF alumna, said she took Tenders to Operation Catnip to get spayed in January of 2020.
Wolf said she lived in Riker Hall since her freshman year in August of 2016 and began seeing Tenders in October of 2018. A conversation with Tolbert Area maintenance crew members revealed that Tenders would often give birth to kittens, most of whom would die shortly after.
It was then that Wolf decided she would take Tenders to get spayed. After an attempt to keep Tenders in her dorm proved unsuccessful due to the cat’s ceaseless meowing, Wolf said she stayed awake all night outside trying to comfort Tenders, who was frustrated about being in a trap.
The next morning, Wolf drove to Operation Catnip where Tenders was spayed and had her left ear clipped, which is a standard procedure conducted by the organization to all cats who have been neutered or spayed to identify them as fixed.
Operation Catnip is an animal protection organization that aims to save community cats by offering free spaying, neutering and vaccination services to free-roaming cats.
Melissa Jenkins, the operations director at Operation Catnip, said the organization treats between 5,000 and 6,000 cats annually. Jenkins loves seeing posts on social media of the cats OC has treated because it preserves the connection with the cats and allows the organization to know they are still healthy and happy.
“We really like seeing those updates because it just shows that this program does so much good,” she said.
Since her trip to Operation Catnip, Tenders has grown into the outgoing, highly pampered Tolbert pet of today.
Brittany VanKirk, who lives in North Hall, said Tenders pays her visits while she goes on evening walks around the area.
“She loves being pet, and she really loves affection,” she said. “She’s a very approachable cat. She won’t run away.”
VanKirk said her boyfriend, who is not a UF student, eagerly awaits a Tenders sighting every time he comes to visit.
“She’s like an icon,” she said. “There’s no other way to describe it.”
The origin of Tenders’ name remains a mystery as theories circulate throughout the years. VanKirk said Tenders got her name after developing a taste for the Gator Corner dining hall chicken tenders students fed her.
However, other students, like Arielle Tibon and Devon Limcangco, said they heard a rumor she was named after the beloved chicken tenders Publix sub sandwich.
Regardless of where her name came from, all the students agreed on one thing: Tenders has put on some pounds.
“She’s a little chunky,” Tibon said.
The 20-year-old UF psychology junior said she began to notice Tenders’ plumper appearance over the past couple of months as she frequents the Tolbert area on her way to UF’s New Physics Building.
Tibon said she often sees Tenders sprawled out by the bike racks. During one interaction, Tibon said a freshman walked up to them, started taking pictures of the cat and desperately wondered how she found and approached Tenders.
“You just got to be patient!” she said to the freshman. “Just let her come to you.”
Tibon said the campus cats allow for conversations and even friendships to spark among strangers.
“I love all of the positivity everyone has around her, it's just really sweet,” she said. “She has such a cult following.”
Devon Limcangco said she treks to Tolbert three to five times a week to visit Tenders and give her treats.
The 20-year-old UF electrical engineering sophomore recalled a season of stress before a big exam during her freshman year when she sought out the Tolbert cats to unwind.
“They’re kind of like my emotional support animals,” she said.
Limcango especially cherishes Tenders and the other Tolbert cats because she misses her four cats back home, she said.
Tenders’ most distinctive characteristic is her willingness to be pet, which is something 19-year-old UF architecture sophomore Hayley Gillette loves about her.
“She’s one of the only cats that is not afraid of humans,” Hayley Gillette said.
Gillette said she and her three roommates intentionally walk through the Tolbert area at the end of the day on their way back to their dorm in the Keys Complex to spend some time with Tenders.
The presence of the cats makes campus a more pleasant place, and it is one of the reasons she lives on campus, she said.
“It’s not out of the question that the cats have kept us in a dorm.”
Contact Abigail Hasebroock at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbeyhasebrock.
Abigail is a second-year journalism major covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. When she’s not catching up on school or reporting, she’s spending time outside, reading or reorganizing her Spotify playlists - usually all at the same time.