Where did the small dog come from? Why did it show up at the starting line of a foot race in China? No one knows. The closest town was miles away. The path ahead led into the harsh Gobi Desert.
One thing is for sure. The dog took a liking to runner Dion Leonard. It followed Leonard for most of the race. Now the pair are close friends.
An Odd Sight
Leonard, 41, is a distance runner. He is from Scotland. Last month, he was in China for a seven-day race.The 155-mile-long course ran through the Gobi Desert.
Leonard noticed a dog at the starting line. She was running near some Americans. He didn’t think she would last long. But on Day 2, the dog showed at the starting line again. This time, she came up to him.
“This little dog’s sort of sitting next to me, looking up like, ‘Are we going to run together today?'” Leonard said. “I didn’t really think that much of it.”
Let a Sleeping Dog Lie
Leonard nicknamed the dog Gobi. She followed him all 23 miles that day. The course went up into the mountains. It reached nearly 20,000 feet in elevation. Elevation is height above sea level. It is harder to breathe in higher elevations.
Sometimes Gobi ran in front of Leonard. That made him run faster. Sometimes he stopped and gave her beef jerky and water from his own pack.
That night, Leonard camped in his sleeping bag. Gobi slept under his arm. She stayed with him all night.
A Runner’s Best Friend
Leonard doesn’t know why Gobi followed him. There were 101 runners in the race.
On Day 3, Gobi ran with Leonard. The course got harsher. He had to pick her up and carry her across a few rivers that day.
“I started to realize then that we were really close,” he said. “I wasn’t going to leave her behind.”
Leonard believes Gobi followed him for 105 miles of the race. She was with him for stages 2, 3, and 6. In stages 4 and 5, the heat made it unsafe for her to run. Race workers drove her by car to the finish line on those days. She waited for Leonard to cross.
Leonard placed second in the race. Workers made a matching medal for Gobi.
Bringing Gobi Home
Leonard looked into how he could bring Gobi back to Scotland. He learned it would cost more than $6,500. The dog needed tests and paperwork. It would need to stay away from others for a few months.That happens when pets go from one country to another.
Leonard started an effort to raise the money online. He quickly met his goal. Now he and his wife expect Gobi to come around Christmas.