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Meet Rolf, the campus cat!

Did you know that the university has an official campus cat? His name is Rolf and you might see him roaming around in his high visibility vest. We had a chat with his owner, Helen, to find out more:


Hi Helen, can you tell us about Rolf?
Rolf lives with us about a mile from campus. However, most days he makes a trip to campus to visit all his friends there, not to mention all the trees and little creatures in the woods around campus which he loves. Either we take him in the ‘catmobile’ (our Jeep) or we walk him over – he walks very well on a lead. Then he finds his way back on his own.

So when did you realise Rolf was heading out on great expeditions across the University campus?
As soon as Rolf was old enough to leave the house, he began disappearing from home for many days at a time. We found out he was visiting campus because we started getting phone calls from staff and students asking if we had lost a black cat – they used the phone number on his collar to contact us. Then we set up a Twitter account for him, to encourage staff and students to follow him and help us keep track of him. Within a month he had more than a thousand followers. Now he has more than 40,000 followers, across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. A lot of those are his global fans, from Australia to Japan to California.
But the main focus for us is the students and staff at the university. Our priority is to let Rolf lead the life he wants to lead but to keep him as safe as we can.

Is Rolf a free-roaming cat?
In February 2019, Rolf was knocked over by a van. His accident was witnessed by a medical student, Rachel, who saved his life. Rolf broke his hip and had to recover in a cage. So when he was well enough to return to campus, his life had to be different. Now Rolf always wears a GPS collar, called Pawtrack. Via the collar’s app, we can keep a good eye on him digitally wherever he might be. He also always wears a high vis vest so he can be seen, even in the dark. It’s still really helpful though for students to take a snap and post it when they see him. We take him to campus in the catmobile so he doesn’t have to cross any roads. So he does roam freely on campus, but in safer ways.

Where does he go when he’s on campus?
Everywhere! He’s been spotted in nearly every building on campus over time, from the Medical School to the Lakeside residences to the Science Park.

Does he have any favourite places?
Prior to the pandemic, Rolf’s first stop on campus was always the Economics Department. He made friends there with faculty members James Fenske and Claudia Rei and many others. Eventually, Claudia became his ‘Campus Mum’, and her office is fully equipped with a scratching post, cat bed, litter tray, and cat snacks. These days he often shows up in her online lectures. The Oculus building and the grounds around it also are a favourite. So are the Arthur Vick residences. The Library is a special place for him as well and he has many friends there.

Hasn’t he had ‘cat cafés’ in the Library?
Just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the University Library team hosted a ‘cat café’ for Rolf five times over six months. It was usually held in the afternoon for a few hours, so students could come to meet Rolf in person. More than 700 students met him this way. Now Rolf is starting to do online versions of the cat cafés as well.

Rolf also has been the mascot for the Library’s Rolf Says Relax campaign, which was first held in May 2018 during final exams. The idea was for a calm and cool critter like Rolf to encourage students to take breaks and find ways to relax during the often stressful exam season.

Didn’t he win an award? And wasn’t he in a Panto?
Right on both accounts. A year ago in the summer, the Vice-Chancellor awarded Rolf ‘Freedom of the Cam-puss’ – that’s kind of like a key to a city, well, for kitties – at the annual campus awards programme in recognition of his Rolf Says Relax campaign and his devotion to student mental wellbeing. He accepted in person. And last December he was in ‘The Little Mermaid’, produced by the uni’s Panto Society. Naturally, he played a catfish.
He wasn’t very good though: he kept running under the chairs in the audience.

What should students do if they see Rolf and want to say hello?
If you want to pet him, ‘sniff and scratch’ is always the best way to go: slowly put your hand in front of his nose so he can smell you, and then gently scratch or pet his neck or head. He’s a cat, so he can bite or scratch sometimes, but almost always that’s when he’s treated roughly and made to do things he doesn’t want to. And it’s best not to feed him, as he sometimes has a delicate stomach. Also, you should wash your hands after touching Rolf. There’s no evidence that you can catch
COVID-19 from a cat, but UK animal charities are recommending this just to be on the safe side.

How can we keep up with Rolf’s escapades or let you know if we see him?
You’ll find Rolf on Twitter and Instagram at @rolfatwark and on Facebook. Please feel free to take snaps and videos and post them there, or anywhere you wish. We do a daily report on Rolf’s adventures to keep everyone updated. We love how students and staff have taken Rolf into their hearts and looked out for him over the years. It’s fair to say that Rolf certainly loves them back.

You can find Rolf inspired gifs and stickers to use on your social media on the University's Giphy Account.