If you’re looking to adopt a dog, you might not think a running race would be the first place you go to find one. Especially if that race is 7 days long – and in the desert. But for Dion Leonard, that’s exactly where he found his new best friend.
Leonard, age 41, is an extreme marathon runner from Edinburgh, Scotland. In June of 2016 he ran the 7-day, 250 kilometer Gobi March through the Gobi Desert in China. The March is part of the 4 Deserts race series. For Leonard and the 100 other runners, the race started out like any other. But quickly he began to notice a furry little friend who was trailing along with them.
A stray dog, now known as Gobi, was running alongside a few of the American competitors, according to Inside Edition. She kept pace with the runners all day and even spent the night in their camp.
“We don’t know how she got there,” Leonard told Inside Edition via phone. Leonard noticed the little dog in the camp, but didn’t think much of it.
On day two, Leonard found himself starting the race with the mysterious little dog by his side.
“At the start of day two, Gobi was on the start line next to me looking up at me,” Leonard told The Independent. “I didn’t speak much to her that day thinking she wouldn’t stay with me, but at the finish line she followed me into the tent and we slept next to each other. That was it then.”
Gobi stayed by his side the entire second day of the race, sealing the new the bond she and Leonard were forming. She even ran over a mountain that was nearly 2,000 feet high.
By day three of the race, Leonard and Gobi were inseparable. The third day of the March crosses multiple, treacherous rivers, according to the Sydney Morning News. Leonard could have left Gobi behind, which would have given him a competitive advantage. But as he told The Good News Network, he could never have left the dog behind – even if it meant slowing him down.
“There were times during the race when, you know I’m there to race and compete and I’m trying to do my best to win the race but we had to cross some really large rivers where I would have to carry her over them. I didn’t actually have the time to do it but I realized then that I had to take her with me and the bond was made.”
Gobi might be small, but often she was running well ahead of even Leonard, who ultimately finished the race in 2nd place overall. “She would run ahead of me and turn around and look at me,” Leonard told Inside Edition. It was as though she was telling him to hurry up.
But even with some incredible endurance and devotion, Gobi could not have made it with Leonard’s help alone. Because the race is in the desert, parts of the run can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees. During those legs of the race, Gobi got to ride in style. Inside Edition reports that she was transported in an air-conditioned vehicle, for her safety and comfort.
In total, Gobi ran 124 kilometers of the 250 kilometer race – nearly half the total distance, and all in grueling conditions. Now having accomplished the extreme marathon, Leonard has another accomplishment to achieve: adopting Gobi.
The process for adopting a dog from China to Scotland is lengthy, pricey, and full of red-tape. According to The Independent, the process can take up to 4 months. But Leonard hopes to have Gobi home with him and his wife by Christmas.
A crowdfunding page has been set up to cover the expenses for Gobi’s adoption, and so far Leonard has raised more than double his goal. According to the Sydney Morning Herald>, any funds that are not used for Gobi’s adoption will be donated to a yet-to-be-determined animal charity.
Until she can go home to Leonard in Scotland, Gobi is living with one of the race organizers. “She joined us on the cold side of the mountain,” Leonard told The Independent, “so I’m sure she will adapt quickly to life in Scotland.”