Amsterdam for Feline-Fanciers
Story & photos by Julie Snyder
“You must go to De Poezenboot,” said my friend Nancy when I mentioned we were headed for Amsterdam. Nancy and I had once partnered on producing events for Nevada Humane Society and though we no longer live in the same state, our love of animals (and hot dogs, but that’s another story) keeps us connected.
Amsterdam is literally the cat’s meow. We encountered friendly felines in narrow lanes and flower-filled courtyards, and spotted furry faces in canal house windows. From our top-floor apartment, we watched as a pussy posse gathered each evening on a neighboring rooftop, strutting and lounging and rolling around. At one of the city’s multitude of Brown Cafes, the pub cat figure-eighted around my ankles as we sipped a beer. Cats are so prevalent in pubs that photographer Robert van Willingenburg chronicled them in a book, Amsterdam Pub Cats.
We took Nancy’s advice, of course. Between visits to other must-see Amsterdam sites—among them the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and the Rijksmuseum—we wandered along Singelgracht, the innermost in Amsterdam’s’ semi-circle of canals, to De Poezenboot, the Cat Boat. What may well be the world’s only floating animal shelter, De Poezenboot offers sanctuary in a custom-built houseboat that accommodates up to 50 cats at a time—several dozen are permanent residents, the rest are adoptable.
De Poezenboot was born by the compassion of Henriette van Weelde who rescued a mama cat and kittens in front of her home in 1966. Gaining a reputation as a cat lady, people flocked to her with strays and cats they could no longer care for. When her cat contingent outgrew her home, van Weelde acquired a houseboat and outfitted it as a floating shelter.
The De Poezenboot Foundation was established in 1987 and funds raised support spaying and neutering of cats whose owners cannot afford veterinary care as well provide shelter and services—including, vaccination, sterilization and microchipping—for stray, sick and abandoned felines. On board the shelter (now a larger boat with expanded facilities), cats are cared for by volunteers, and donations keeps the enterprise afloat.
Cats find their way to De Poezenboot in some novel ways but perhaps none more unconventional than the seven-week-old kitten who was dropped through the boat’s mailslot. Named Briefje (Little Letter), she recovered from her ordeal and found a loving family. The organization’s Facebook page tells the story of its current residents and needs (there’s a nifty option that translates Dutch into English). As a rule, cats and water are not compatible, but De Poezenboot is surely the exception.
From the Singelgracht we strolled to the next canal ring, Herengracht, and followed it to the Kattenkabinet (Cat Cabinet) for another cat fix. The Kattenkabinet was founded in 1990 by a wealthy Dutchman in memory of his beloved ginger, John Pierpont Morgan. Evidently J.P. Morgan was no ordinary cat. Ordinary cats don’t sit for portraits, model for sculptures or find their face on a dollar bill with the text “In God We Trust” replaced by “We Trust No Dog.”
Housed in a lovely 17th-century canal house, this novel “mew-seum” celebrates cats in art and culture as well as provides a home for J.P.’s memorabilia. High-ceilinged rooms are chockablock with paintings, posters, sculptures, photographs, furniture and crockery, all featuring cats. Among them is a photo of Lenin cradling a kitten, a “Lucky Cat” pinball machine, an enormous framed poster of Le Chat Noir and a Rudyard Kipling lithograph of “The cat who walked by himself.” Outdoors, the theme continues in a peaceful garden. And if you spot what looks like a sculpture of a napping cat, be forewarned that it could actually be one of the Kattenkabinet’s feline residents.
Wandering along narrow cobblestone streets past handsome gabled houses in the Jordaan neighborhood, we happened up Cats & Things, a pet store and then some. Kitty is priority so first stop is the well-stocked cat food and treats section. Perhaps kitty needs more toys? A new bed? A roomier carrier? A fashionable harness? Cats & Things has you covered. Next stop, treats for cat owners. The shop showcases an abundance of gifts, art prints, jewelry and housewares—all feline-themed. We were traveling light so our furry guy got stiffed on the kitty gifts–and we decided we could live without a cat-shaped tea cozy, tempting as it was.
If you’re missing your cats at home and are in need of a cuddle-and-purr session with a surrogate feline, Kattencafe Kopjes affords the chance to get up close and personal with the resident rescue cat contingent while sipping a “cattuccino.”
Amsterdam’s first cat café is the upshot of a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 by a cat-loving entrepreneur. With sleek furnishings for humans and a wealth of nooks and shelves for cats to climb, perch and sleep on, Kopjes is the ideal spot to enjoy some feline love along with delicious desserts and other light fare. A small “cat tax” to support the well-being of four-legged residents is charged for a two-hour visit and reservations are recommended.
We were practically purring by the time we left Amsterdam. How can one not have a soft spot for a city so fond of its felines?
Julie Snyder lives in Portland, Oregon. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.