Josette is a French resident in Siem Reap, where she went to live after her retirement three years ago, after working in the movie industry in Paris, then with a Japanese tour operator in Tokyo for 21 years.
Always an animal lover, she has rescued several cats and kittens in Tokyo, in collaboration with a local animal rescue organization.
In January 2012, after meeting Katie Beattie, an Australian vet nurse in Siem Reap, she joined her in rescuing stray dogs and cats and helping in their adoption by fellow expats. In December 2012, both co-founded Angkor Paws Animal Rescue (APAR), an animal rescue organization in Siem Reap, which is now managed solely by Katie Beattie.
In February 2013, she started her daily visits to Wat Athvea pagoda to feed and treat the cats living there.
See below, Josette’s interview :
1) How did the idea of Pagoda Cats come to be? When did you decide on this initiative? Whose idea was it?
The name “Cats Pagoda” is mine!
It’s quite a mystery why cats and kittens are staying with the monks inside the pagoda itself, and not roaming around the precincts, as is the case in other pagodas. But the head monk and the deputy head monk both seem to like cats very much and let them stay near them at all time. Some of the boy monks living there also like cats very much.
Not sure how old this pagoda is but it is definitely… old, judging by the beams, the pillars, the floor and the roof. There is a 12th century Khmer temple in the precincts, visited by a number of tourists on their way to/from Tonle Sap Lake.
3) Where is the Pagoda Cats located? Why do you especially choose this Pagoda?
It is located in the Southern part of the city, on the way to Tonle Sap lake, in a rather poor community.
After assisting Katie Beattie in her animals rescue for almost one year in 2012, Josette had learned a lot in animal care; once it had been agreed that Katie would be solely in charge of APAR, she wanted to continue to do something for the animals by herself. That’s when she remembered Wat Athvea, a pagoda located near the house of the Khmer family where she lived for 10 months in 2011; there, she had seen a number of cats and kittens inside the pagoda itself, staying near the monks giving their blessings. She had visited many pagodas in Cambodia before. All have a number of dogs and cats roaming around the precincts, but never inside the pagoda itself. It was quite a unique sight which she had not forgotten. That’s why she decided to focus her attention on that pagoda, as the cats and kittens she had seen there at that time were in poor condition.
4) How do the cats and the dogs arrive in the Pagoda?
It is usual for Cambodians to bring unwanted cats and dogs to a nearby pagoda. Some people also bring pigs, chicken and other birds for good luck. A pagoda is open to everyone, animals included, and it is where the cats/dogs – and often tiny kittens/puppies whose mother has died or rejected them – are brought and left.
But other Cambodians coming to the pagoda are free to take any cat or dog of their choice as well.
5) Why do people give up their animals?
Moving somewhere else, no money to treat a dog injured in a car accident, pure neglect once the animal is getting sick and not pretty anymore, and puppies/kittens who are unwanted or whose mother has died (it happens a lot) or rejected them.
6) What relationship do Cambodian have with their animals?
They care for the animals that have value (cows – pigs) and the local vets are called whenever there is a problem with these animals that can bring cash or food.
But dogs are not considered pets in Cambodia as they are in Western countries. They are there solely to be the guardian of the house, staying outside, never petted, and receiving food leftovers only. If they get sick or injured, they are left untreated, as many Cambodians can’t even afford medical care for themselves.
Cats are faring much better and receive more attention than dogs. Whenever I visit homes or houses in a pagoda’s precincts, the cats I see look much better than the dogs. They are also easier to feed: so many cheap fish available here!
7) What relationship do the monks have with the abandoned cats? What are the care given to the cats? Do you work with some veterinary?
The head monk of Wat Athvea – who has total authority over all the monks there – seems to be a cats’ lover. He doesn’t pet them as Westerners do, but I have often seen him holding newly arrived kittens in his arms, looking at the cats with a gentle eye, and throwing some of his food to them. He has a special bond with a red tom cat, a very shy cat who has been treated twice at Katie’s clinic, who often sits right next to him when he is giving his blessings. It’s quite a sight!
None of the kittens and cats living in the pagoda received any medical treatment, even the most basic, until I started coming there in February. Many kittens in a weak state decline within a few days of their arrival and the monks just leave them to die. In the beginning I was very shocked and busted into tears whenever I found a dead kitten there, but I have now accepted that it is inevitable…
The treatments I give to the cats and kittens at the pagoda are basic – as I am not a vet – but essential: eyes cleaning (so many eye infections in the beginning!), ears cleaning (so many mites residing in their ears, causing infection), deworming once a month and – when I can get it – fleas/lice preventative Frontline (which is costly and cannot be found in Siem Reap).But first of all: FOOD.
I bring cats needing medical care to Katie’s vet clinic – with all expenses borne by me; they are fostered at my home until they are fully recovered and then returned to the pagoda. There are no permanent Western vets in Siem Reap and, while Katie can take charge of treatments and some surgeries, special treatments and female cats’ sterilizations can only be done by a vet. Katie sometimes receive the collaboration of a Western vet for a limited time (between one week-end for a Russian vet last month, and two months for an American vet in April and May).
There are local vets who, as explained before, treat mostly cows and pigs. They lack the skills and hygiene standards that Westerners are expecting from a medical practitioner and, as a result, I never use Cambodian vets for the pagoda cats. In addition, animal sterilization is not practiced by the local vets, as it is not a Buddhist concept. Euthanasia, even for a badly injured or sick animal, is not practiced either, for the same reason.
8) Does the Cambodian’s law protect animals?
No idea !!! I don’t think so… They can’t even protect people and children…
9) How many animals have been saved?
The word « rescue » applies to stray animals. In this case, cats live in the pagoda and share the very humble life of the monks.
Some of the kittens and cats who were treated at Katie’s clinic with all costs paid by me, stayed at my home for their recovery and were either adopted or returned to the pagoda afterwards:
– Kitten LEO: was sluggish and got his face painted by a 4-year old boy in April 2013. He was dewormed, got Frontline, IV fluids and the paint was removed by the American vet. After spending two weeks recovering at my home, he was adopted by a fellow expat.
– Cat SIR TOM CAT (the head monk’s favorite!): was shown to me at the pagoda in May with a very swollen face (left side) and a nasty wound on his right tight. He couldn’t eat anymore and was becoming very skinny. He was brought to Katie’s clinic where the American vet operated him for his mouth abscess and his wound; he was desexed at the same time. After some time recovering at my home, he had to return to the vet clinic a second time as his abscess was still swollen. He was returned to the pagoda one month later, in June, fully recovered and ready to share the head monk’s cushion! He cost me a fortune!!!
– Kitten MANGO – found outside around the pagoda in June with what I thought was mange on her back. She was brought to Katie’s clinic, where we realized it was a burn from either hot cooking oil, burning candle or incense stick. It was treated with topical cream and medicine and, after staying with me for some time, was returned to the pagoda. Soon after however, I found her burn had worsen as she was scratching it all the time. Second visit to the vet and, this time, Mango had to be bandaged every day with special burn bandaging and receive anti-biotics. Second stay at my home for 2 weeks, after which she was returned to the pagoda, with her burn fully healed and fur starting to grow again.
– Other kittens have been brought to Katie’s vet clinic, especially in the beginning, with most of them not surviving…
Dogs dumped in the pagoda are not ignored. Here are the two who were rescued:
– Dog ANGIE: appeared in front of the pagoda in a horrible state in May. I started feeding her and, when I posted her photo on my Facebook page, a friend in Phnom Penh contacted me immediately to announce that she was adopting her and that all medical care in Siem Reap would be at her expenses. A few days later, Angie was brought to Katie’s clinic where she got a thorough treatment for all her ailments. One month later, she was brought to Phnom Penh and is now living a high life in my friend’s loving home.
– Dog LIZZY: appeared in front of the pagoda in a terrible condition in June, painfully skinny and with a lot of skin parasites. I started feeding her and Katie came to treat her parasites on the spot. She was a candidate for sterilization by the Russian vet but he discovered that she might have rabies. She had to stay in quarantine at the clinic for 10 days… I returned her to the pagoda, where I continued feeding her, giving her medication and a special Betadine shampoo three times a week. Beginning of August, she had to return to Katie’s clinic to be treated for nasty cat bites. She returned to the pagoda one week later.
– Pig OLIVE: a pig brought by a family for good luck in May was nearly killed in the pagoda precincts one night. I alerted Katie who came to treat the poor animal every day and arranged for Olive’s move one week later to an NGO’s farm, where she is now living happily.
10) Can we adopt these cats?
Yes ! These cats and kittens are freely dumped at the pagoda but they are also free to take.
By Cambodians: On July 22nd, I witnessed an adoption by a Cambodian woman and her daughter who took away one of the grey cats cared for by me.
By Expats: so far, only one kitten (Leo) has been adopted by an expat in Siem Reap after I posted a request for adoption. My second request for adoption didn’t produce results, so I have stopped posting in Expats Forums. Kittens and cats stay in the pagoda and I check them every day. Those receiving medical care at Katie’s clinic stay at my home for a while and are then returned to the pagoda (Sir Tom Cat, Mango).
You can follow the activity of the Siem Reap Pagoda Cats on facebook:
An another article in ” The Phnom Penh Post ” :