You may consider yourself a lover of cats.
You may love cats so much that a family member, an annoying co-worker, or a complete stranger who gave you a sideways glance when you were wearing your favorite psychedelic cat shirt, has referred to you as a, “crazy cat person.”
You may believe that your superstar status as an ailurophile is unmatched.
To this we say—nice try, fur-lover.
In 1966, the queen of all cat lovers (as dubbed by this author), a woman in Amsterdam named Henriette van Weedle, witnessed a family of felines sheltering under a tree near her house on the canal.
Unable to resist the overpowering adorableness of the cats, she took in the family of homeless kitties.
Though not expressly mentioned in publicly available information about her life, we can only guess that her family, friend, or roommate sighed very loudly when she brought the cats in the house and perhaps even said (in Dutch, of course), “Not this again.”
Word about Ms. Van Weedle’s generosity quickly made it around town. Suddenly, people started showing up at her door with stray or unwanted cats.
Being a big softy (and clearly a woman of high intelligence) she agreed to take in every cat that was brought to her door.
Soon, her flat was overrun, and her neighbors were sick of helping her carry the 40-pound bags of cat litter to her door. (Again, we’re speculating on the neighbor’s help, but in 1966 women were not allowed to carry heavy things. That’s just history.)
Ms. Van Weedle knew the patience of her peers was wearing thin, but she could not abandon all these cats that had nowhere else to go. One day she looked outside and found her answer.
Many people in Amsterdam live on boats and barges in the canals so if people could live on boats, why couldn’t cats?
Cats are not known for enjoying a good bath or a hot summer dip in a pool, but honestly, what choice did they have?
Ms. Van Weedle bought an old Dutch sailing barge and got to work stripping out the interiors to retrofit it to house the cats.
Though it is not clear where she originally got the funding to outfit the boat, since it was just for cats, the cost couldn’t have been all that high.
She really just needed some old boxes, an actual boatload of Meow Mix, and a few pairs of her most expensive shoes for the cats to destroy without remorse, to keep the cats happy and healthy.
However, after the boat was completed, and the cats were aboard, something more important happened; volunteers started showing up to help take care of the cats!
This proved that her efforts and love had not gone unnoticed. Also, hanging out on a boat is always more fun than hanging out at a lady’s house who lives with 50 cats.
After three years of successfully saving dozens of cats, the boat had reached it’s cat-capacity. Ms. Van Weedle knew the only solution was the same solution that Chief Brody in “Jaws” came to: they were gonna need a bigger boat. Or at least a second boat…
After 10 years with two floating boat cat sanctuaries, time took its toll, and one of the boats had to be retired. After the original boat was sent out to pasture, Ms. Van Weedle obtained a Dutch houseboat, which is referred to as an, “ark.”
A little on the nose, but at least its, “ark” wasn’t worse than its, “bite.”
In 1987, after years of saving and improving the lives of hundreds of cats, the organization finally became recognized as a full-fledged charity.
It became known as, “Stichting de Poezenboot,” or, “Catboat Foundation.”
It would continue its work of saving cats, allowing the public to visit the kitties, and supporting the volunteers that really made the boat float!
As time went on and the Catboat volunteers continued their expressed mission to help as many cats as possible, it became harder and more expensive to run.
In 2001, they had to completely renovate one of the boats to meet current animal sanctuary standards.
In 2006, some buzz-kill government type made them completely remove the second boat. Luckily, to this day, the remaining boat can house up to 50 cats; fourteen less socialized kitties live there permanently.
The Catboat became a must-visit vacation destination in Amsterdam.
The uniqueness of the boat’s story and mission were even featured in Atlas Obscura.
Most people vacation in Amsterdam for it’s better known industry, weed, but the same people that come for the weed, probably enjoy feline-filled experiences on the Catboat in a more “elevated” way.
Ms. Van Weedle passed away in 2005 at the age of 90. She gave hundreds, and potentially thousands, of cats a chance at a safe and healthy life.
The next time you think that you’re a crazy cat person, just think of Ms. Van Weedle and ask yourself: why haven’t you bought a floating cat sanctuary if you love cats so much?
The Catboat is solely funded on individual donations and does not get any municipal or governmental support.
If you’d like to donate to this fantastic place, you can do so here. You can even sponsor one of the full-time feline residents on the boat!
I’ve got my eye on Sassje, mostly because she looks like she hates everyone and everything, and I’m a sucker for a challenge.