At the crack of dawn on a cold winter’s day in Sydney, runners and cyclists gathered at a park in the city’s inner west to participate in the sixth Penny Marathon. They limbered up and stretched, and breathed warm air into cold, cupped hands, ready to tackle the five-hour, 42-kilometre route ahead of them.

The Penny Marathon started in Athens in 2012 as a way to raise awareness of the plight of stray animals in Greece, and its support spread to Sydney, where its founder, Ellie Prodromou runs (somewhat literally) the annual event. It is also a way to honour volunteers in animal welfare who rescue animals lingering in pounds, on death row, neglected behind fences and abused for entertainment and profit.

“The stray issue is an obvious one in Greece because they’re on every street corner. They get poisoned, run over, shot. It’s a part of life, and the complacency is frightening,” Ellie tells Neos Kosmos.

“The complacency is less obvious in Australia. But there’s a reason for our clean streets. Tens of thousands of healthy animals are euthanised in this country because no one came for them; because people continue to buy animals from breeders rather than adopt. And don’t forget we are a nation that prides itself on abusing animals for the sake of placing a bet on a horse or dog race. Is the situation in one country better than the other? Not in my eyes.”

Seven hours later, as the team in Sydney takes down the finish banner and heads home for hot showers, runners and cyclists gather as the sun rises in cities in Greece to start the marathon.

“We go from strength to strength,” says Ellie. “In Athens this year, we had the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, and hundreds of people and their rescued dogs ran the perimeter of the centre in support of animals in need.”

“But it’s not just symbolic. We rescue lives with the money we raise through donations and sales.”

On the island of Salamina, Greece, for example, the Penny Marathon has spayed and neutered close to 200 stray animals since it started the initiative in 2015. In Australia, these funds help existing rescue groups such as Inner City Strays, Sydney Animal Second-chance and Pet Haven.

The team would like to thank all its sponsors, particularly Neos Kosmos and Lea’s World Travel, who support the event in Australia.

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