A Visit to the World's Only Floating Cat Sanctuary
Dec 20 2013
Imagine, if you will, that you live in Amsterdam. It's a very chill time and you enjoy a comfortable existence near a canal because you're Dutch and that's a thing. One day, one of the city's many stray cats hangs out adorably near you for so long that you think, "Alright, lil' buddy, you can live with me." The cat thinks, Wat leuk! Over the next few weeks and months, you take in so many cats that they literally overrun your home and you are forced to do the only logical thing: buy a houseboat adjacent to your dwelling and fill it with dozens and dozens of homeless cats, creating the world's first and only floating cat sanctuary.
But what to call it? Since you are a minimalist, you want something simple. Since you are Dutch—did I mention you're Dutch?—you want something in Dutch. You settle on the perfect name: Da Poezenboot, which just straight up translates to CATBOAT. Congratulations, you are Henriette van Weelde, my personal Dutch hero, and owner/founder of Catboat, maybe the best place in Amsterdam.
On a recent visit to the city, I had a short chat with Sandra, one of the volunteers who run the "world's only floating cat hospital" about what it's like keeping a bunch of little furries on a small boat in the middle of a city.
VICE: Hi, Sandra. How many cats are on the Catboat?
Catboat Sandra: We can house approximately 50 cats at a time. We have about 14 resident cats that are not adoptable. They were born outside and not socialised and will never be normal house cats. On the boat, they are relaxed with each other. Some of them will hide when it's visiting hour. We neuter, vaccinate, and chip all the cats that come in. Sometimes, we also neuter cats that live outside. We think it’s very important that cats are neutered, because there are still so many stray cats. We also work with foster homes – most of the time one of our volunteers – if we have kittens with or without their mother.
Has the unstoppable popularity of cat pics and videos on the internet helped business at the Poezenboot? How’s your web presence?
We have a website and we are active on Twitter and Facebook. For us, it’s a good way to reach more people than in traditional ways. People retweet or share pictures and information of cats that are looking for a new home. In the last year, we noticed that some cats found a new home this way, with people that are living outside of Amsterdam and would probably not have come to us for a cat if they hadn’t seen the information on social media.
We don’t think that cat pics and videos helped business for us. We are very strict with the placement of the 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.
I was kind of hoping for something gif-able there, but fair enough. How many visitors do you have per year?
Per year we have about 4300 visitors of which about 1700 are tourists.
Cats hate water, right? Do these guys like being on the boat?
The cats can’t get wet, so they probably don’t notice they’re on a boat instead of in a home. They are interested in the ducks, swans and gulls that come close to the boat. 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.
Is there one particular cat who is captain of the boat? The Cat-ptain, if you will?
That would be Koeienkat – literally translated that means "Cowcat", because of its colours. He is a dominant male and needs to be fed first or separately, otherwise the 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. So he’s the only one who has a warning sign which people see before they enter ("Don’t touch me"). He is well known and loved in spite of – or maybe because of – his character.
Why do you think people love cats so much?
I think because they have their own character and personality. If you like a cat that will sit on your lap as much as possible or a cat that only needs you for his daily food and attention on his terms, you will find your match. They are independent, but can also be very sweet and cuddly, [or] playful and naughty at times. They are great companions and can surprise you with their behaviour.
Conveniently located within walking distance of a McDonald's, a chip shop, a bunch of Thai food places, and several coffee shops (that don't serve coffee), I can't suggest a better weekend than getting stoned, biking over to a boat full of cats and then going for snacks with your grubby cat-hands in matching Poezenboot T-shirts.
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