“De Poezenboot. Goedemorgen?” That translates to “The Catboat. Good morning?” and it is how Judith, in a warm yet clearly down-to-business voice, answers the office phone. She is the manager and the public—human—face of a cat refuge long moored in the Singel, a large canal that once moated Amsterdam’s medieval center and still provides the embankment for Golden Age mansions.
By contrast, De Poezenboot (pronounced “POOH-sen boat”; poezen is Dutch for “cats”) appears as a simple wooden rectangle floating on concrete, in a boat style known as an ark. Hardly of Noah dimensions, the shelter can hold 50 cats at a time—this month they're the chosen charity supported by sales of Santa Claude, a special holiday coffee collaboration between Sprudge, Cafe Imports, Roundhill Roasters, and Dutch Pack. Currently, there are 17 in-house cats, each with a distinctive personality, and while most of the cats at the shelter are rehomed in short order, some are too rascally to place with families, and now call De Poezenboot their forever floating home.
Kasumi is a yellow-eyed Persian that hams it up for the camera, but gets pushed aside by her housemates during mealtime and pees where she pleases. Samus, the dead ringer for Scut Farkus, comes with his own scratch-warning sign and last year posed in a photo with Ricky Gervais.
On a recent Wednesday, one of the two days the boat is closed to the public, Judith sat at her desk in the reception area. Between fielding calls, she talked about De Poezenboot and sipped a drink that Sprudge picked up prior to the interview. Good Beans, a nearby espresso bar which this past summer came under new American-Norwegian ownership, prepared Judith’s hot chocolate and an Americano with their own Rwandan Bourbon roast. The coffee went to Michi, a feline portrait artist and the volunteer that morning taking care of rigorous kennel cleaning.
Even though stray animals are not a systemic problem in the Netherlands, De Poezenboot has plenty of work. It takes in cats that are occasionally found on the street, orphaned, aging, or otherwise too difficult for owners to continue tending.
“Sometimes we have a whole family crying here because they have to bring in their cat,” says Judith.
As a schoolchild, she was one of De Poezenboot’s earliest volunteers, and eventually became a friend and a caregiver to Henriëtte van Weelde, the woman who began the sanctuary. That was in 1968, on a barge one canal over. Van Weelde died at age 90 in 2005.
Today, the De Poezenboot has 22 volunteers, organized into fixed teams that rotate boat shifts. Their main responsibilities are feeding, administering medicine, and cleaning. They also keep an eye on the neighborhood swan that likes to swim up to the deck and out-hiss its water-wary canal-mates. Some volunteers double as foster parents, socializing and nursing cats to more adoptable states. Judith had planned to do precisely that with a once “really tiny and scared” kitten, she recalls, but eight years later, Jumi is her family pet (as is a merle-coated Chihuahua named Rosa).
The boat survives on donations, with money put towards cat provisions plus mooring and other houseboat-related costs. The small fee that adopters pay largely covers health costs, including sterilization, vaccination, chipping, and sometimes deworming.
This past June, De Poezenboot celebrated its 50 year anniversary. Feline-themed festivities aside, the jubileum allowed the organization to raise funds for a campaign to help financially struggling Amsterdammers get their cats spayed and neutered “almost for free,” says Judith. The program is scheduled to run in February 2019.
In the meantime, rehoming remains the main mission. Would-be adopters who see a listing on the website or via social media can call or visit to inquire if they might be a good match.
“We do want to have the cats go to the most suitable house,” Judith emphasizes. “If we have a cat, for instance, that is scared of kids, but really beautiful, and somebody comes in and says, ‘Oh I like that beautiful cat,’ but she has three screaming kids, she will not get the cat.”
Yet, most adopters are, much like the creature they covet, sensitive and self-assured.
“We get nice people, people that think about what they’re doing, not people who are like ‘Oh give me a cat, and I don’t mind what kind of cat. Just give me one,’” says Judith.
Included in that group are business proprietors that seek a mouser or, for whatever reason, a whiskered workplace companion. Up the block, Café Kobalt got “a red one from us,” notes Judith, “and Café de Doelen also.” More recently, a local cigar store requested neither a cafe lounger nor a lap-sitter, but rather “an independent cat that goes his own way.” The satisfied owner has already emailed photos, says Judith. “Everybody loves him and he’s running through the store.”
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.