As the excavators roared on the southern end of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building, Animal Rescue Cambodia’s (ARC) Martina Mayr was on the hunt.
While most of the residents of the White Building have now left since the demolition started this week, many of the cats that lived in the building have been left behind by their owners.
According to Mayr, in the three visits ARC has paid to the White Building this week, they have managed to rescue 27 cats, including six kittens.
“We haven’t had the chance to talk to people who lived there because when we came most of the people had already left,” she said yesterday as she walked around the rubble and rubbish from the start of the demolition.
“But it seems a lot of families left their animals behind, because every time we come here, people tell us there are so many there.”
While Mayr said some of the families they did manage to speak to wanted them to help with what Mayr presumed were their cats, after they did not want to take the animals back.
“Which is strange because they had names for them, they were living in their apartments and things like that, but then suddenly they decided they weren’t their cats,” she said.
“I think a lot of people believe they feed cats, but the cats don’t necessarily belong to them.”
She attributes it to the residents having a different perception of ownership about animals.
“I think they kind of see these animals as strays, but let them sleep in their house and feed them,” she said.
Soni Na, one of the few residents who still live in the White Building, said she was afraid many of the cats would be killed or hurt during the demolition.
“The cats are usually here. They used to run around the building. I think there are still many of them that are living in the building,” she said, holding her own cat in her arms.
Thanks to videos and photos of ARC’s efforts being posted online, Mayr said they have received almost $1,000 in donations, as well as people volunteering to adopt many of the cats rescued.
“I think the public response is very good because everyone knows the White Building and how big it is. A lot of people are helping,” she said.
However, Mayr’s centre is now over capacity thanks to the new arrivals, with some of the rescued cats who are healthy being taken to the provinces by their families, or being left at the pagodas that ARC work with.
“Right now we just need them to get out of here. We’re trying to pick up more,” she said.
While Mayr and her team didn’t find any animals during yesterday’s expedition, they handed out info pamphlets to demolition workers, in the hope that if they came across any animals, they would notify ARC.
“I think they were looking for people that are still there or things to carry outside, but I don’t think they check for animals,” she said.