Josette Vanneur is a French woman who has dedicated her life to the wellbeing of pagoda cats in Cambodia.
After working first in the movie industry in Paris then in the travel trade in Tokyo, Josette decided to move to Cambodia after her retirement in 2010 and she settled down in Siem Reap, the city where Angkor Wat is located.
Always an animal lover, she had rescued and re-homed several stray kittens despite her busy work life in France and Japan, with the help of local animal rescue organizations. Once in Siem Reap, she soon started noticing the very poor health condition of the cats and dogs living at pagodas, and she was wondering how she could help. It didn’t take long to find an answer with Katie Russel, an Australian vet nurse also living in Siem Reap, who wanted to start an animal rescue organization. In January 2012, both started rescuing stray dogs and cats, with Katie providing the medical care and Josette fostering them until their recovery and adoption by fellow expatriates. That’s how Josette learned the basics of animal care.
When the vet nurse returned to Australia nine months later, Josette decided to make good use of her newly acquired skills and restarted the animal welfare initiative by herself, buying all of Katie’s clinic equipment and surgery material, and starting to visit pagodas around the city to check the cats living there. It was definitely those sheltered at Wat Athvea, a pagoda located on the way to Tonle Sap lake, that needed help the most.
On February 18, 2013, loaded with cat food and vet medicine, Josette made her first visit to the cats of Wat Athvea, feeding and treating them inside the pagoda, to the surprised eyes of the Abbot and the monks.
Siem Reap Pagoda Cats was born!
Two years of dedicated work until a tragic event occurred at Wat Athvea in March 2015…
A large number of kittens had been dumped at the pagoda recently, and Josette was struggling to feed them all. The photo above was taken on March 24, 2015. The next day, all the kittens had disappeared… Josette learned from her Khmer friends who went to interview monks and people living there that an “Excellency” had visited the pagoda to greet the Abbot and check the preparations for the coming Khmer New Year. He stepped on a kitten’s pooh and got very angry, ordering the monks to get rid of all the kittens. It was done the Khmer way, with all the pagoda kittens caught by someone, put in plastic bags and taken away. They either suffocated in the bags, were thrown in the pond behind the pagoda or dumped somewhere else. Part of the ritual cleaning spree before the Khmer New Year later that month… Josette has no idea to what extend the monks were involved, but this was the last blow after enduring so many difficulties throughout the two years of her Siem Reap Pagoda Cats mission.
As a result, she ceased her visits to Wat Athvea and, once all the cats and kittens she had rescued just before the horrible event were rehabilitated and adopted, she decided to look for another pagoda.
Wat Po, a pagoda located further on the way to Tonle Sap lake, was selected, as the cats were living behind the pagoda, enjoying life outdoor and being sheltered by the monks on their houses’ veranda.