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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December, 2004, 16:51 GMT
The marathan runner with 261 pets
Fiona Oakes is an elite marathon runner, a champion campaigner of veganism, and a single-handed carer of more than 250 unwanted animals. Is it any wonder she hasn't had a holiday in eight years?

Every morning, at 3:30am, Fiona Oakes rolls out of the bed to the sound of her roosters calling. For the next six hours, she begins the gruelling process of cleaning up the horses mess,letting the dogs out, tending to the injured animals - and the feeding of 261 animals.

"I love animals," she says passionately. "My objectives are to give every animal in my care, love and the best possible quality of life I can, and when the time comes, dignity in death."

There doesn't seem to be much doubt she can do that. For over seven years, Fiona has been taking in injured or unwanted animals from just about anywhere.

"There's one piglet from Cambridge that just came in," she says. "A man had found a piglet wandering around the middle of the road at 1am. He took the piglet to Cambridge Wildlife hospital who couldn't help him, but someone there knew me, so he travelled over 400 miles to bring him to me."

Her stablehouse in Asheldam, Essex now houses 21 horses, 26 pigs, 50 cats, 10 dogs, and dozens of rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas & hampsters - all of which live side-by-side in relative peace.

"I take them when they're at the end of their life - when people don't want them anymore," she says. "I do not breed animals and I don't take home animals."

While her day mainly revolves around the feeding and care of her animals, Fiona also finds time for her other passion - keeping fit. "I endeavour to run between 80-100 miles per week and get out on my bike whenever I can," she says.

Her vigorous daily routine has paid off in more ways than one. Last month she came in 5th in the renown Florence Marathon, beating 21 elite/professional athletes. "It's an incredible achievement," says Martin, her financial partner on the stablehouse. "Particularly when you consider the workload Fiona has got at the sanctuary."

She also runs, however, to promote veganism, of which she has been a strict adherant to for 20 years. "Because I can't go out and do protests or anything like that because I have the animals to take care of here, I do it to show people that you can be a vegan and do this.

"When I win at local races, people are truly shocked. They don't expect someone [who is vegan] to do well. They think that you're weak because you're not getting any meat protein and will be pale and unhealthy-looking."

It's no wonder that she was awarded this past year with the prestigious Outstanding Vegan Achievement Award from the Vegan Society. "That was a big honour from them for everything I've done."

"This is what I've always wanted to do, I know what I'm doing is right," she adds earnestly.

"It's something inside of me - I wouldn't know how to do anything else. I'm not interested in living my life in small doses. You're not here for very long on this planet, so it's about helping others. I don't really care if the price I have to pay is that I'm tired most of the time."



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