If you’ve ever belonged to a cat then you know that most of them are not crazy about water. However, the cats living on Amsterdam‘s floating animal sanctuary have a different take. The “Catboat,” or de Poezenbout, as it’s known in Dutch, is home to about 50 homeless cats, who live aboard the floating shelter on the country’s picturesque canal belt.
The Catboat started back in 1966, when a kind, young woman, Henriette van Weelde, discovered a mama cat and her kittens living under a tree near her home on the Herengracht Canal. She couldn’t bear to see the little ones and their mother suffer in the elements and took them in to be a part of her family. Soon, another homeless cat found her way to her, and sure, enough she gave the cat shelter in her home. Word began to spread that van Weelde was taking in stray cats and she quickly became known as the “cat lady.”
Neighbors began bringing her cats they were no longer able to care for and eventually, the felines began to fill her home, garden, and roof terrace! There was hardly any space left, but the cats kept coming. She knew she had to do something fast, but she couldn’t let the animals she rescued be left on the street, so she devised a solution.
She knew that plenty of her neighbors lived in houseboats along the canal, which gave her an idea. What if the cats could live there too? So in 1968, she acquired an old Dutch sailing barge, which she turned into a shelter for abandoned, sick, and homeless cats.
A young Henriette van Weelde cuddles with two of the first Catboat residents.
She also recruited a number of volunteers in the process to help care for the four-legged friends. The shelter became so successful that after a few years, van Weelde was able to purchase a second boat to make room for more animals. On top of the addition of new cats, something else was happening … people started visiting just to see the floating cat sanctuary. No longer were individuals just coming to drop off unwanted cats, but the facility became quite the attraction, which helped the sanctuary become an official charity in 1987 and be renovated to fit the needs of its furry residents.
The floating cat sanctuary has become a well-known attraction in Amsterdam.
The shelter is even listed on Tripadvisor as a destination when visiting Amsterdam and even boasts a five-star rating from tourists. There is no fee but visitors often leave donations, which help cover the costs of the cat’s care including neutering, vaccinations, micro-chipping, and other needed medical attention.
While some people stop in out of curiosity there are others who go in hoping to find their next forever pet. Many of the cats roaming on the boat are available for adoption (if you pass the screening process) but some are permanent residents who, even if they let you pet them once or twice, are just not cut out for life with humans.
“Most of our permanent residents started out as feral cats who by now can never be fully socialized,” explained Judith Gobets, a staff member on Cat Boat. “They will never be ‘normal’ cats and will always distrust people. Some you can pet, but don’t try to pick them up.” Visitors will find funny posters hanging on the boat of the cats that are best left alone!
While van Weelde passed away in 2005, her legacy of kindness lives on among the volunteers and the 4,500 visitors that pass through the sanctuary every year.
Inside of the sanctuary, the four-legged residents are given the TLC they need.
We can only imagine what Henriette van Weelde would think of her sanctuary today, with visitors from around the world coming to see, adopt, and help support the care of the animals she loved. You can help contribute to the efforts of this incredible cat shelter by visiting The Catboat’s website and virtually adopting one of its permanent residents like Icey or Kairo. In the meantime, we’ll all remain grateful to a kind cat lady who took a brave and innovative approach to helping animals in need by creating a one-of-a-kind sanctuary.
Image source: Hedessa