first_imgFour-legged runners will join their two-legged counterparts to take part in the Penny Marathon, a run, cycle and roll event held in Athens and Sydney every year to raise awareness of stray, abused and neglected cats and dogs. Among the participants will be Marko, a former Greek stray dog and now seasoned marathoner, who will run 10 kilometres with his owner in support of all the animals still looking for the love and warmth of a forever home. “My partner found Marko when he was on a trail run on Mount Ymittou in Athens one morning,” says Julia Douni. “This three-month-old stray pup appears out of nowhere and runs the entire 12-kilometre course with him. It was as if he knew that this was his chance at a family and had to keep going to prove his worth.” An hour later, the pup is sprawled at the runner’s feet, dipping his head to take a sip of water. “He had a look of ‘Did I pass the test? Will you take me with you?’ and the next thing he’s on Niko’s motorbike, ears flapping in the wind, headed home.” That was the summer of 2009. Today, Marko is an integral part of the family. He regularly enters running races and competitions with his owners, has travelled to all of the mountains of Greece, has thrown himself into rivers, lakes and beaches, and has best friends to whom he is loyal and defends. He is one of the lucky ones. Some figures suggest there are half a million stray animals living in the city and rural streets of Greece, as Marko did as a pup. The reality for these animals is a far cry from the iconic images of cats set against potted flowers and white-washed buildings on Greek islands. If you scratch the surface, you will be instantly confronted with the brutal truth of puppies and kittens found dumped in garbage bins, mass poisonings in public parks, and other images of cruelty and neglect. Government support is next to non-existent and Greek laws governing animal abuse – fines of up to 30,000 euros for an incident of abuse – are mocked by authorities. The survival of these animals is left in the hands of desperate volunteer groups operating with no funding, and those compassionate enough to provide the occasional handful of food and water or to stop their car to help an animal writhing in pain by the side of the road. It is this reality and the need for change that drives participants to enter the Penny Marathon, especially those who have adopted a former stray and whose lives have been touched as a result. Sadly, for every Marko that is adopted in Greece there are hundreds of thousands that never will be. These animals are largely left to fend for themselves. Beyond the need to find food and shelter every day, there’s also navigating the pitfalls – not getting hit by a car, not falling victim to poison, not falling into the hands of violent and sadistic people. On Sunday, 13 July, Julia and Marko will be running alongside Marilia Politis and her dog, Bowie, in Athens, for the second consecutive Penny Marathon. In 2006, Marilia came to hear about the then one-year old Bowie through a friend. “He was in a terrible state when he was found. He had been badly hit, had severe infections and was very sick. I agreed to mind him for a few hours and, well, that was eight years ago and I haven’t looked back,” says Marilia. “Everything changed the day he entered my life. I have learnt many things about myself, about dogs and, unfortunately, about what human beings are capable of doing too,” she adds. For Julia and Marilia, the Penny Marathon is a way to join forces with like-minded people. “People who have certain sensibilities, people who hurt and cry without shame for all kinds of injustice and abuse (people or animals, there is no difference for me), and people who are willing to exhaust themselves physically and emotionally to get a message across,” explains Julia. “It’s for this reason that I choose to unite myself with this cause in the understanding that a collective voice delivers a louder message and one that it worthy of earning the respect of all. Miracles cannot happen overnight but I genuinely hope that, with time, we will succeed to make a change.”The Penny Marathon advocates for adoption, neutering and spaying of stray and unwanted companion animals in Greece and Australia. It also honours the work of volunteers who try to save the lives of these animals. More information is available at www.pennymarathon.com* Ellie Prodromou is a Greek Australian and a co-founder of the Penny Marathon. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img

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