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The Catboat: The world’s only floating animal shelter


Photo by Jorge Royan licensed CC BY-SA 3.0

This boat found floating along a canal in Amsterdam is packed with cats of all kinds. Here’s the story behind this unusual animal sanctuary. (Spoiler: It’s purr-fect for cat-lovers!)

What is it?

Cats hanging out on the cat tree.
De Poezenboot (say "POOH-sen boat"), which Dutch for "the Catboat," was started in 1966 by Henriette van Weelde. Photo by Kent Wang licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

The Catboat is the world’s only floating animal shelter. It’s home to about 50 stray and abandoned cats. The boat was created about 50 years ago by an animal lover who wanted to help stray cats and give them a safe place to stay.

To begin with, she took the cats into her home. But soon there was not much space left, so her cat sanctuary moved onto a barge that bobs in an Amsterdam canal. And the floating cat home was born!

What makes the boat so special?

Cat looks out on to the canal.
The sailing barge was renovated many times and was carefully designed to ensure the cats don't end up in the water. Photo by Kent Wang licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

The floating shelter is designed especially for its feline residents. It has structures that the cats can climb on, scratching posts, cat beds, cat toys and lots more. And, of course, the boat is built to be cat-friendly to make sure no kitties go overboard. It has wooden slats and wire along the outside so that all cats stay safe and sound…and dry!

Who cares for the cats?

Feeding time for the cats.
The cats that live here are tabbies and street cats and most are available for adoption. Photo by Jamie Tarallo licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

All of the cats onboard the Catboat are well-cared for by about 25 volunteers. They regularly visit the boat and make sure the felines are happy and healthy. Most of the cats are available for adoption. So cat-lovers can come aboard and find their purr-fect pet. 

Can people stop by and visit the cats?

Cat stares from above
Donations cover new kitties to be spayed, neutered and microchipped. Photo by Kent Wang licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

While the Catboat used to be just a shelter and adoption centre for felines, more and more people heard about it and wanted to climb aboard to visit the kitties for a short while. So the boat is now open to human visitors who can stop in during specific hours and hang out with the cats. There’s no admission charge, but visitors often make a donation to help the Catboat stay afloat.