De Poezenboot: Amsterdam’s Cat Boat

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A city with over one hundred kilometers of canals, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam is full of houseboats. However, one such boat in the historic Herengracht district is hiding something peculiar inside. On any given day it’s home to about 50 felines!

No, this isn’t a hoarding nightmare gone wrong. The cat boat, or “de poezenboot” in Dutch, is the world’s only floating cat sanctuary.

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Photo credit: Antony Stanley/Flickr

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

For starters, cats and water don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. The residents of de poezenboot seem to love it though. When I visited, a couple were 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 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 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 living on it.  After the second world war, these old transport vessels became the answer for 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 “wateryuppies”, back then, they offered a modest, affordable space to live. In 1968, Henrietta purchased the the first cat boat and continued to care for its residents with the help of volunteers.

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Photo credit: Annie Cooper

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 behavioral specialists where necessary to give the kitties the best chance of rehoming.

De poezenboot is open to visitors daily from from 1pm until 3pm except on Wednesdays and Sundays. There is no entrance charge however donations are highly 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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Photo credit: Annie Cooper

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Photo credit: Annie Cooper

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Photo credit: Annie Cooper

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Photo credit: Annie Cooper

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