When extreme marathoner Dion Leonard started his run in the Gobi March, a seven-day race in the deserts and mountains of China, he noticed a little dog keeping pace with the rest of the field. Over the course of the next week, the stray dog — which Leonard named Gobi — kept pace with him, and even when she was unable to run, she waited patiently for him at the finish line. The two formed a bond, and now the runner is doing everything he can to bring Gobi back home with him to Scotland.
On the first day of the race, many of the runners noticed a little dog that had joined them on their journey. No one knew where the little stray had come from as the closest town was miles away. By the second day, Gobi zeroed in on Leonard and ran side-by-side with him for the 25-mile stage of the event. That afternoon, she followed the marathoner into camp and curled up by his side, claiming him as her own.
In the end, Gobi ran four of the six stages of the grueling Gobi March through the Tian Shan mountain range. As the race approached the Black Gobi desert, Leonard and the race organizers grew concerned about allowing Gobi to run as the terrain would be grueling and the temperatures very high (around 125 degrees Fahrenheit.)
So for stages four and five, the organizers transported Gobi to the end of the stage where she rested in the shade, patiently awaiting Leonard's arrival — and when he did, she jumped up and ran with him to the finish line. By stage six, the event was back into somewhat less inhospitable terrain and Gobi once again ran alongside her partner. In all, the little stray ran about 78 miles of the event's 125-mile course.
Immediately after crossing the finish line, Leonard and his wife, Lucja, began looking into the possibility of bringing Gobi home. They discovered that it would take about four months, which would include medical checkups, two quarantines and mountains of administrative paperwork in China and Scotland. They started a Crowdfunder page, hoping to help offset some of the £5000 cost (about $6,700 U.S. dollars) to bring Gobi home. Within 24 hours, the page had been fully funded. As of this writing, Leonard has raised more than four times the amount he needed. He plans to donate any surplus funds raised to a local animal shelter.
But disaster struck not long after Leonard left. Gobi escaped from a home in Urumqi, China, where she was being kept before being sent to quarantine, and Leonard immediately flew from Scotland to search for her. With a team of volunteers, he started a social media campaign, but also looked for her the old-fashioned way, putting up fliers all over the city and talking to taxi drivers and vendors, visiting parks and shelters, and going on local TV, reports the Washington Post. He wasn't optimistic that he'd find the pup.
“I needed to come and do it, just to be sure in my own mind I had done it,” he told BBC Radio Five Live. “But realistically, I was dreading having to go back home next week without her.”
A local man called and said he and his son had spotted a stray dog. They brought her home and thought maybe she could be the missing Gobi. Leonard went to the man's home, skeptical this could really be his dog.
"Gobi spotted me as soon as I walked in, and she started running toward me," he told the Post. "Literally, she was running up my leg and jumping all over me and squealing with delight."
Leonard says Gobi still has to undergo 120 days of quarantine, but he hopes to visit her during that time and have her home with him in Scotland by Christmas.
Editor's note: This story was published in early August 2016 and has been updated with new information.