Never intended as a tourist attraction, it certainly has become one with over 4,500 visitors per year. Mostly tourists away on holiday missing their cats back home.
Its original intention was as a sanctuary for cats, which is what it still is, however, what makes this cat sanctuary so special is it is a houseboat which bobs along with the Herengracht canal.
The beginnings for the floating feline sanctuary can be traced right back to 1966, the year in which Henriette van Weelde rescued a stray cat and her litter of kittens, allowing them to stay in her home. This act of kindness took on a life of its own when more and more people dropped off rescued cats on her doorstep.
Not once did she say no, though over a period of two years poor Henriette quite simply ran out of room. Then she had a bright idea, she put most of her cats on an empty houseboat on the Herengracht canal. Not the legal thing to do, it was more like a ‘pirate ship’ for about 20 years or so until it obtained a permit in 1987. After which it got the name ‘de Poezenboote’ (The Cat Boat).
Just about any day of the week, you will find up to 50 cats lounging about on this floating refuge. Henriette looked after them for decades until 2005 when she passed away. Now it is run by a small staff with the help of some local volunteers. There are about 14 permanent residents on the boat, the cats can possibly be adopted depending on their temperament.
Many the permanent residents are semi-feral, and will never find homes, they arrived as feral cats and will never be socialized. These cats can never be patted, picked up or even touched. There are drawings all over the boat identifying which cats should be left alone. People love to cuddle cats, but some of these cats don’t want to be cuddled.
Being on the water staff don’t get surprises like the staff at this can sanctuary sometimes get. However, every new arrival is quarantined in a cage for a short period. During this time they are microchipped and depending on the sex, either neutered or spayed. This helps to keep down the feral population, and hopefully, also stop adopted cats from running off or worse be abandoned.
Cats that can be adopted are free to roam about the boat, these cats are friendly but you can’t just take one home.
The staff are very choosey about who can adopt a cat. Matches pretty much have to be perfect, so potential adoptees and staff sleep on it for at least a night before final approval.
You can watch a video about ‘de Poezenboote’ here:
“We are very strict with the placement of cats,” added volunteer Sandra, speaking to Vice Magazine. “We don’t want them to return to us, so we ask potential new owners a lot of questions about the home situation and their experience with cats. If someone thinks a cat is only fun and nice to cuddle and play with, we tell them it takes a lot more to take care of a cat.
While they’re waiting to be adopted, the cats do have plenty of things to do to keep themselves amused. For instance, the families of ducks, swans, and gulls that paddle by on the canal.
“Some of our cats like to peer through the fence at the ducks, dreaming of ways to pounce,” Judith revealed. “Cats, of course, like to hunt.”
“The ducks and swans like the cat food and swim next to the boat begging for some food,” Sarah said. “You would not see cats and ducks this close to each other normally. [They are] separated by a fence, of course.”
A boat full of cats must have a CAT-ptain, of course, and according to Sarah, that title belongs to one of the male cats named Koeienkat (cowcat).
“He is a dominant male and needs to be fed first or separately, otherwise others wouldn’t get any food! He mostly sits next to the door where the visitors come in and looks like he would like to be petted. But that’s only appearance, he will scratch when they try to do that. He is well known and loved in spite of – or maybe because of – his character.”
Visiting the Cat Boat is free of charge, but most tourists do tend to make generous donations when they come to know that it does not receive government support. Cat lovers from across the world also make online donations to help support this boat’s permanent residents.
“About 10 years ago we did apply for funding, but they turned us down,” Judith said. “From that moment on, we’ve gone our own way. We are supported entirely by donations. And we do like the feeling of being independent. No strings attached.”