Amsterdam is known for Rembrandt, Anne Frank, and a red light district that doubles as a tourist attraction. It seemed that nearly every page in my guide book was striped with yellow highlighter, and it would have taken me two years rather than two weeks to see all that I wanted to see. Nevertheless, when I read about de Poezenboot, the Cat Boat, I knew I had to find time for a visit. I could not leave Amsterdam without seeing a houseboat for homeless cats.
I was frankly surprised to learn that the city needed a refuge for stray and unwanted cats. After nearly two weeks of wandering Amsterdam’s streets, I had not seen one neglected animal. In fact, the only dogs I saw were usually being chauffeured by their owners in baskets on the front of bicycles, and the cats I ran across occupied positions of prominence such as the concierge cat that presided over our hotel lobby and the bartender cat I found stretched across two bar stools down at the corner cafe. Yet as much control as a city may have over its problems, perfection is of course impossible and de Poezenboot, which has been in operation for thirty years, is currently responsible for the care of seventy homeless cats.
When I climbed aboard the houseboat moored on the Singel Canal, I found a cozy haven with wooden walls and an earthen colored tiled floor covered with toys, scratching posts, and litter boxes. I was greeted by a friendly fellow who appeared to be in charge. He told me about the particulars of their operation while at the same time I was totally ignored by the feline residents as they went about their lives. One outgoing, obviously well-fed shipmate was the exception – Casanova. “He likes the women,” I was told and sure enough he obligingly sat on my lap to enjoy some female attention and even posed for a photo.
Casanova probably wouldn’t have appreciated the flyer I had been handed that stressed the importance of neutering ladies’ men to prevent an increase in the homeless population. In fact, de Poezenboot’s foundation handles not only the neutering of their residents but also other strays as well, stating, “At your request our vets will castrate or sterilize stray cats, after which the animals will be replaced in their gardens.” I enjoyed the way their methods were presented, as if they hoped this process would not be too much of an imposition on busy kitty lives. It was all so Amsterdamish. A combination of good will, common sense, and charm.
I watched as a cat made its way through an opening that led to a caged area on deck, and I thought about what a perfect setting this was for such notoriously uppity animals. They were like a group of snobbish yachters, and I could picture Casanova sporting a jaunty captain’s hat. Nevertheless, I had to realize that this boat was what it was a homeless shelter. And like homeless animals anywhere else, I was sure these lost-and-found souls would have preferred a true home and family. I was reminded of de Poezenboot’s ultimate goal as I glanced once again at the information in my hand. In awkward English it stated, “Help us to prevent the female cats from getting pregnanted for she would have a little chance, but her kittens would have no chance at all. They will never have a good life for sure. Please help us to redress this problem being caused by us human-beings.”
For more information about de poezenboot, please visit www.pandemic.com/catboat.
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