Cats hate water, right? You bet. But the 50 feline residents of Amsterdam's Poezenboot ("Cat Boat") are fine with living on the water … on one of the city's houseboats.
Amsterdam's legendary canals, which have earned the city the nickname "Venice of the north," are home to about 2,500 houseboats.
Beautiful 17th-century homes line the streets along the canals, but houseboats were historically the option for people who could not afford to live on dry land.
The Poezenboot began in 1966, when Henriette van Weelde found a female stray and her kittens and took them into her home. As often happens, Henriette soon became known as the "cat lady" and her lovely home on the canal became full of too many cats.
What's a cat lover to do? Henriette bought a houseboat in 1968 and, once securely moored along a nearby canal, garnered neighborhood support and opened its door to homeless cats. Established as a foundation in 1987, the Poezenboot is now a local institution with a strong volunteer and donor base. High school students, required to serve volunteer hours at a charity of their choice, often pitch in. A local company has donated central heat for 12 years, and some contractors offer discounted services to maintain the boat.
"I've got four cats at home, two are from the boat," said volunteer Nathalie Groeneveld, who has been working two shifts a week for the last four years. Nathalie's duties include everything from cleaning and medicating to adoption counseling. "I try to find out from the cat's point of view what is the best match," she said. "We put the cats first."
Nathalie was joined by her 17-year-old daughter Ashley, who was helping to socialize several resident cats. The boat is open to tourists for several hours each day, and the volunteers act as guides. Many volunteers also foster the cats, especially when pregnant females are brought in.
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