When Eleftheria (Ellie) Prodomou was working as a journalist in Greece in 2008, a small dog would meet her at the bus stop every morning on her way to work. They warmed to each other quickly. Ellie would bring the dog food and clean water and the petite pooch would meet her at the same time, at the same bus stop every day. Ellie soon started knowing the dog as “Penny.”
Until one morning, Penny didn’t show up to the bus stop.
A security guard working nearby, who had been watching the two bond for months, gestured towards a corpse in the gutter on the side of the road. Ellie suspected Penny had been hit by a car and left to be disposed of by council cleaning trucks.
It was in honour of Penny that Ellie’s charity, the Penny Marathon, was born.
“I will forever feel an enormous sense of guilt for not having provided Penny with a safe home, and now live life as a person who has learned from that mistake,” Ellie tells The Greek Herald.
The Penny Marathon is an annual marathon held on the same day in July in cities around the world raising money for suffering animals and their rescuers. It has taken place in cities throughout Greece, Australia, the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic.
“I was never a runner; nor did I set out to start a charity. A friend was getting married in the
village of Marathon in 2012,” Ellie explained.
“I was flying over to attend the wedding and thought I would train to run the original route from Marathon to Athens to raise some money through family and friends for stray animals in Greece. People found out over the internet and that’s how it all started.”
So far, the Penny Marathon has raised over $200,000 with tens of thousands of people and
Funds raised go toward financial support for emergency medical treatment, food, vaccinations and spay/neutering. Though, the reach of the Penny Marathon expands beyond Greece and Australia, and even includes responding to animal needs in crisis zones like Ukraine and Gaza.
“We decide where the money goes based on greatest need. For example, when the war started in the Ukraine, some people fled and left their unneutered pets behind,” she said.
“We worked with frontline rescuers in Odessa to spay and neuter them to prevent the breeding cycle of suffering. Many of these dogs then found homes in neighbouring European countries.”
Currently, the Penny Marathon team are raising money for Sulala Animal Rescue in Gaza. They are also saving for a wildlife fund in Australia in preparation for the expected fire season over summer.
The Penny Marathon support neutering and spaying (sterilising a female dog) due to the potential to save millions of stray animals from a life of suffering as a result of the breeding cycle. On the island of Salamina, Greece alone, they have desexed more than 400 stray cats and dogs, and in Ukraine, they have desexed 220.
When asked how she measures the impact of the Penny Marathon, Ellie recounted a list of countless stories ranging from the puppy found floating in a plastic bag in Monemvasia who now lives with a family in the Netherlands (which the family named Ellie), to Frangolina, the stray dog she brought to Australia from Kalamata who now lives a happy life in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
From her answers it is clear the Penny Marathon is, and always will be, a grassroots organisation powered by volunteers and supporters with rescuing animals at the core of everything it does.
“We are not the type of people to partner with corporates to grow; we much prefer to stick to our own ethics and values and not compromise. That is likely to mean we will never go viral, but that suits us just fine!” she said.
While many non-profit organisations around the world lobby for change from governments or industry leaders, Ellie said impactful change for stray animals also comes down to everyday people.
“All of us in rescue around the world want people to stop buying from breeders. There are millions of healthy animals around the world that are euthanised every year because no one comes to their rescue,” she said.
“And yet, people continue to buy $10,000 cavoodles… Adopt don’t shop – it’s that easy to save the life of another living being.”
While there is no official number of stray animals recorded in Greece, Ellie said the burden of an estimated 1-3 million stray animals in the country alone falls heavily on volunteer animal rescuers who receive little to no financial or community support.
She would like to see everyone who lives in or visits Greece take responsibility when they see a stray animal in distress.
“When you travel to Greece, understand that, if you find a stray animal in distress – and you may – it is very likely that there will be no one but you to help them,” Ellie said.
“When I travel to Greece, I always factor in time to volunteer at an animal rescue shelter. If you want to make a difference, there’s no better way.”
Find out more about the Penny Marathon on their website and keep up with updates
on their Instagram @pennymarathon