Animal Stories

The Sailor Cats of Amsterdam

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In a city boasting more than one hundred kilometres of canals, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam is full of houseboats writes Annie Cooper. However, a houseboat in the historic Herengracht district is hiding something peculiar inside. It is the waterborne home to about 50 pussy cats and their kittens.

The cat boat, or ‘De Poezenboot’ in Dutch, is the world’s only floating cat sanctuary.

A cat shelter on land is nothing to write home about. After all, every major city has one or two. One on water, however, is a different story.  

As we all know cats and water don’t go paw-in-paw. The furry residents of De Poezenboot seem to love it though. When during her visit to the city Annie Walker noticed a couple of felines basking in the sun on the boat’s enclosed balcony looking out onto the canal.

Why a cat boat though?  Amsterdam has no shortage of buildings on the land. Firstly, life on the water is a big part of the city’s history and culture. An article on What’s Up with Amsterdam states:

‘Some of these old ships are over a hundred years old. The river ships were used to transport goods while the owner and his family lived in the small quarters below deck. After retirement, the shipowner would moor the ship and continue to live in it.  After World War II, these old transport vessels became the answer to the housing shortage in Amsterdam.

Secondly, the cat boat sanctuary did start out on land. Back in 1966, a woman called Henriette van Weelde started to take care of needy cats in her home on the banks of the canal. She quickly ran out of space and began to look for a dedicated location to house them.

Although nowadays houseboats are an expensive option popular with so-called ‘water yuppies’, back then, they offered a modest, affordable space to live. In 1968, Henrietta purchased the first cat boat and continued to care for its residents with the help of volunteers.

Now, De Poezenboot is a fully-fledged charity which is supported solely by donors. It takes in stray and surrendered cats with the goal of rehoming, although 14 felines live permanently on the boat. The Cat Boat Foundation takes care of vaccination, sterilization and microchipping of cats in need as well as working with behavioural specialists where necessary to give the kitties the best chance of rehoming.

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De Poezenboot is open to visitors daily from 1 pm until 3 pm except on Wednesdays and Sundays. There is no entrance charge however donations are encouraged. It’s located in central Amsterdam, about ten minutes walking distance from the main station. You can find directions and a map on their official website.

One point to bear in mind if you are visiting is that this is not a cat cafe. Since some of these cats have been rescued from abusive situations, they may not want to be touched and there is a risk of being scratched. The staff do speak English and are happy to advise on which cats are friendly and appreciate a few pets from a stranger.

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