The Cat Boat is one of the most unusual and unique attractions. All these rescued cats actually live on this charming little houseboat that floats in Amsterdam, along the Herengracht canal.
Although it wasn’t originally meant to be a touristic location, the Cat Boat now welcomes more than 4,000 visitors every year, most of whom are tourists missing their own cats while on vacation (which I totally understand).
This story dates back to 1966 when a very kind woman named Henriette van Weelde felt sorry for a stray cat and her kittens, allowing them to stay at her home.
Soon after, Henriette became well-known in her neighborhood for her selflessness and acts of kindness. People started bringing abandoned cats to her, and would often bring rescued cats, and she never turned them away.
This went on for about two years until Henriette ran out of space to accommodate more cats. So, she decided to place them all on an unused boat.
For nearly two decades, the feline sanctuary resembled a “pirate” ship and operated without official authorization. However, in 1987, they finally got a permit and were officially named ‘de Poezenboot‘ (i.e. the Cat Boat).
Henriette took care of all those cats for her entire life, until she passed away in 2005. Now, the Cat Boat is managed by a small staff and a few local volunteers.
No matter which day you decide to swing by, there’ll be about 50 cats “hanging around” the boat, and at least 20 will be permanently living there, and the rest will be available for adoption.
Judith Gobets, a staff member on the boat, explains how most of their cats were once feral and abandoned, and probably won’t ever be fully socialized.
“They will never be ‘normal’ cats and will always distrust people. Some you can pet, but don’t try to pick them up.”
To help visitors identify the cats they should avoid, drawings of the ‘dangerous’ ones are displayed all over the boat. Judith added:
“Of course, they are not actually dangerous. You just have to leave them alone. People always like to cuddle a cat, but often that’s not what the cat wants.”
Every new cat that arrives is quarantined in cages for a short period. During this time, all of them are neutered and microchipped.
Once they are treated, the cats are allowed to roam freely on the boat. They are friendly and adorable, but it’s not easy to simply take one home. Judith said:
“We are very picky about adoptions. I really have to have the feeling that the match is perfect. Otherwise, the chance is too big that the re-homing will fail. Potential new owners and the staff have to sleep on it for a night before we finally say yes.”
Sandra, a volunteer speaking to Vice Magazine, also emphasized how strict they are with placing cats.
“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 waiting to be adopted, the cats have many things to do that interest them, like watching swans, ducks, and gulls flying and paddling in the water.
Judith also revealed that the cats’ favorite activity is looking through the fence and dreaming of ways to pounce on the ducks. Sarah said:
“The ducks and swans like the cat food and swim next to the boat begging for some food. You would not see cats and ducks this close to each other normally. They are separated by a fence, of course.”
A boat filled with cats wouldn’t be complete without a captain, and on this boat, that title belongs to one of the male cats named Koeienkat (translated cow cat).
“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.”
You can visit the Cat Boat for free, and you’re more than welcome to make a donation, as most people do, since this project is not supported by the government.
Cat lovers from all around also make online donations to ensure that the Cat Boat can continue working and that the cats have everything they need. Judith said:
“About 10 years ago we did apply for funding, but they turned us down. 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.”