With almost half of the city lying below sea level, all Amsterdammers are used to living on the water… Even cats. Let us take you to the one and only Catboat – a shelter for cats on a canal. Curious about the ‘floating cats’ and people taking care of them, we spoke to the manager of the Catboat, Judith Gobets.
It was in 1966 when our founder, Henriette van Weelde, found a stray cat with kittens in front of her house on the Herengracht. She pitied them and brought them to her house. Then she found one more abandoned cat, and then another and another. Soon enough, people started bringing her cats too, and the house of the ‘cat-lady’ – as they called her – couldn’t accommodate new ‘tenants’ any more. That is when she got an idea to open a cat shelter, which has been kept afloat up to this day. Sadly Henriette passed away in 2005, but more than 20 people on our team are doing their best to continue her lifelong dedication.
Half of our cats are stray and have been found on the streets. The others are brought by people who can’t or don’t want to take care of them anymore. All ‘newcomers’ on the Catboat go to the quarantine. We need to check their health, vaccinate, microchip and neuter them if needed. Then we try to rehome them as fast and good as possible.
We get this question a lot! Henriette did it because she loved boats and lived close to a canal. Besides, we’ve been keeping cats’ feet dry, so they don’t have any contact with water really. Getting along with one another, in turn, is much more difficult for them. The thing is when cats don’t know each other they are each other’s enemies. Most of them will fight if you put them together right away. That is why we need to temporarily cage some of the cats until they get used to the others.
Of course! As mentioned before, half of our cats are stray. And some of them lived outside for too long – they are not really home cats. You can’t pick them up, sometimes you can’t even touch them. These cats stay with us as permanent residents. Yet people can adopt them financially: they donate money to support a cat but don’t actually take it home. In return, they get pictures of a cat, the background story and an annual update about them. It’s good for those who like cats but can’t have them at home for some reason.
We rehome up to 250 cats a year, and this is a lot, especially for such a small institution. The place is not that big – we usually have around 50 cats on the boat. Besides, rehoming is not easy. Not all cats and all people are suitable for each other. Sometimes a person adopting a cat has kids or pets, and all of them simply don’t get along with each other. If it doesn’t work out, people must bring our cat back – we only support it if it’s a perfect match. But when we do manage to find good homes for our cats we are truly happy for them! Then it’s not even sad to give them away. Well… almost.
No, it’s not cleaning. It is hard but we’re kind of used to it. I think the hardest is when cats are sick or something is wrong with them. Stray cats are very hard to deal with. They don’t want to take medicine, and we have to find a way to trick them. Sometimes cats we find are so sick that a vet would say we need to put them down. This is really hard. Also, visits to vet clinics are very expensive. Of course, we have a few vets that help us, offering discounts or even offering services for free, but this is still our biggest expense.
Yes, we have never planned for it to be an attraction but it kind of became one. The Internet helps a lot. We don’t need to tell people about us anymore – now Google and social media do all the job for us. We didn’t have that at the beginning! By the way, visitors are very different. From people intended to adopt a cat to those simply missing their own cats while being on vacation in Amsterdam.
One morning I came here and found a tiny kitten on the kitchen floor. Apart from the fact that our cats never go to the kitchen, I didn’t even see that kitten before! I asked everyone if they knew anything about it, but all in vain. As all doors and windows were closed, the only thing that could have happened is that someone stuffed it through the mailslot. We called her ‘Briefje’, which means “a letter” in Dutch. By the way, people usually rename cats after rehoming, but those who adopted Briefje decided to keep her funny name.
Do you like cats or the concept of the Catboat? Want to help and earn a couple of extra karma points? Support the Catboat to keep it afloat! Both cats and the Cat Crew will greatly appreciate it! Visit the shelter or its website for further information.