If you love cats, you can’t avoid a visit to Josette Vanneur’s Pagoda Cats. Believe me, just like me, you’ll make her sanctuary for mini tigers, furry noses & co. a permanent fixture in your heart. A unique experience!
At half past eight in the morning I have an appointment with Mr. Ratha. He has been driving tuk tuk for Madame Vanneur for several years. For example, when it’s time to take interested parties to the chosen Cats Pagoda in Siem Reap. The two of them are a well-rehearsed team.
I am insanely curious about what awaits me and enjoy the gentle breeze while I think. Suddenly, Mr. Ratha stops and a short time later, an elegant lady, a few years older than me, gets into the tuk tuk. “Hi Inga, nice to meet you – I am Josette Vanneur”. She quickly takes a seat opposite me while she tells Mr. Ratha in staccato the current events. Her voice is rough – underlined by her French accent while she speaks English. Although I don’t speak French, I love the language and my ears listen joyfully to her words.
The journey continues towards the pagoda and Josette devotes her full attention to me. Oh yes, the cats – so much work. But no one else cares. And if they do, it’s not right. Most of the time, anyway. It is the custom of the Khmer people to give their pets that they can’t do anything with to a pagoda. It is not uncommon for cats, dogs and sometimes even pigs to be given away there.
Although the monks take care of the animals, they usually have no idea at all how to feed them properly. The rule is that monks simply feed their leftovers. And only more or less sporadically, because they don’t have a regular meal themselves. This is a diet that is anything but suitable for the stomachs of dogs, let alone cats. And treating animals for illness is certainly not the monks’ thing, not to mention castration and sterilisation. Not really conducive to keeping the population of the four-legged friends in check. But in their pagoda, the monks now know the right treatment. “The monks here at the Cats Pagoda are a great help,” Josette tells me with a big smile on her face.
But Madame is worried. Because only recently, yet again, two of her darlings died. Despite devoted care, they didn’t make it. But that’s how it is – she has been able to save many cats on the other side.
Excited welcome parade and finally the long-awaited food
Arriving at the pagoda, I am supposed to have my camera ready, because a unique spectacle is about to begin – so her frantic words as she swings light-footedly out of the tuk tuk. The daily feeding is the highlight of the day for cat and dog and it takes a while for her to make her way through all the purring and tail-wagging creatures. In the meantime, Madame distributes extra greetings from time to time. A nudge here, a cuddle there – I get an idea of how much she cares for all the animals.
From now on, everything happens quickly. In no time at all, Josette and Mr. Ratha spread one bowl after the other on the floor and fill it with food. They take great care to ensure that each animal is fed exactly what is both age- and species-appropriate. For example, special milk food for the very small kittens.
I can’t believe my eyes during the spectacle. Not a single growl or scuffle can be heard. Everyone waits patiently until their bowls are finally filled with the coveted treats. It must be because of this mystical place of the pagoda, Madame explains to me when I ask.
Even animosities are allowed to be acted out. Like Queen Elisabeth, a red and white tabby cat. She insists on her own feeding place, otherwise she won’t touch any food. She gets it – up on the balustrade of the veranda – every day. Up there she eats in peace without even glancing at her fellow cats.
Madame Josette tells us about Mr. David Bowie, who is always looking for confirmation and asking for an extra stroke. The dog owes its name to the fact that David Bowie died on the day he came to the pagoda.
France – Japan – Cambodia
France – Japan – Cambodia
I want to know how she came to Cambodia. She lived in Japan for many years – the first of them with her cat, which she took with her from Paris.
Yes Paris …
Many years ago now. At that time she was working in the film industry. One day, she was in Japan and had the urge to travel – her cat had died in the meantime at the proud age of 15 – and she visited Cambodia. Immediately she noticed the many cats. Malnourished, sick, injured … Not all of them, but still so many that Josette spontaneously decided to relocate from Japan to Cambodia. At the same time, she fell in love with the country and its people. She felt right at home, although she had thought the same thing when she moved from Paris to Japan years ago. At that time, she could not have imagined that her life would change completely and that one day she would end up in Cambodia.
I watch Josette and listen attentively as she tells her story and the many stories around it with all her soul. Meanwhile, one cat after another passes through her careful hands. Some are so tiny that they barely peek out of them. Wiping noses, cleaning eyes and ears, removing ticks … Despite all the trouble she has with her charges, I sense that Josette has found her place in life. A passion that will surely keep her going until her last breath. Meeting such people always touches me deeply and I admire them for their never-ending passion for what they do. Although the suffering in what they do certainly has its share. Life is somehow not a pony farm, as much as we would like it to be.
After an hour or so, it’s all over. The sated and fed four-legged friends cuddle among themselves, lounge on the sun-warmed floor and gradually trot off their way. I take a few more photos while Madame shows me the cat interior on the veranda. Self-made retreat baskets made of cardboard, cages for sick animals and new arrivals – Queen Elisabeth rules here -, a blue transport bag for the way to the doctor or to Josette’s home. There she looks after the animals that need very special care. But now it is time to say goodbye. Madame still has a lot to do today.
R.I.P. Petite Madame Inga
At that time I didn’t know that a few moments later there would be a Petite Madame Inga (actually a tomcat, but we only found that out later). A little stromer that I discovered on a bench not far from the pagoda, whining loudly, and took to my heart. So much so that I immediately take him into Josette’s care. I pay for his food and medical care.
But sometimes fate is a real asshole …
It is Sunday, 26 November and I am back in Germany when the news of the death of my foundling reaches me at four in the morning. A monk finds two dead kittens on the pagoda grounds. One of them is Petite Madame Inga. Probably a virus, because external injuries are not visible. I am sad. But I am comforted by the fact that the last few days have certainly been the most beautiful in his short cat life.
Support Pagoda Cats
The food, sterilisations, medicines and much more go into the money and Josette is happy about any support. Especially donations for food. But also volunteers who spay and neuter the cats and dogs. If you would like to donate: You can find information about the donation account on her website Pagoda Cats Siem Reap. Pagoda Cats Siem Reap. There is also a lot more information about this great project!
Visit Pagoda Cats
You can visit the Pagoda Cats for their morning feeding – Josette is happy to do so. Although the visit itself is free of charge, Josette is happy to receive a donation. The best way to contact her is via the website. You will find the contact form at the bottom of each sub-page. Sometimes it takes two to three days before she gets back to you. Be a little patient – Josette’s protégés need a lot of time and enjoy absolute priority in her life.
Follow Pagoda Cats on Facebook
On her Facebook-Page, Josette reports almost daily about her protégés. My visit in the past was number 407 :-)
Dear Josette, today is your birthday. I wish you all the best and send you lot’s of love. I wish you all the best and that you make many, many cat and dog hearts happy.
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