When a human is looking to adopt a canine running partner, they’ve usually got a big dog in mind. Huskies, Retrievers and Shepherds often make the list, as do Weimaraner and Vizslas, but the dog who has become the world’s most famous canine runner is none of those. The subject of the new book, “Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart”, wouldn’t quite reach the knees of the bigger breeds, but somehow, the tiny stray kept pace with ultra marathon runner Dion Leonard as he ran through China’s Gobi Desert last June.
“I definitely recognized during the race that this was amazing and that this was a phenomenal effort by this dog,” Leonard tells DogTime, adding that he didn’t think much about the dog’s small stature until after the race because the mutt he named Gobi has got such a big personality.
“To be honest, I think that more comes now when I look back and see the video and see her on my lap and see how tiny she is,” he explains. “Whereas during the race she just seemed to switch on and she would do whatever she had to do to be there, to be next to me.”
Gobi’s commitment to Leonard began as he embarked on the second stage of the ultra marathon. The grueling, multi-day sport sees runners take on treacherous terrain while carrying all their supplies on their back. In a competition where every calorie counts, food is precious — and Leonard could hardly believe it when he saw his fellow runners feed bits of their own precious rations to the stray the night before.
Having come to running later in life, Leonard didn’t have time in his career for a fun run. A serious athlete, he was in it to win — not to make friends with some random dog. Out of the hundreds of runners at the starting line for the second stage, Leonard was perhaps the least likely to share a post-run meal with the pooch, but he was the one she choose.
Perhaps the little dog sensed Leonard knew what it was like to feel alone and unloved after an upbringing he describes as volatile and filled with loss. Only Gobi knows why she fell for Leonard, but he knows the exact moment he began to return her feelings — as she tagged along with him for the second day in a row.
“I was running through a large river crossing. I’d already started, I was already half way into this river crossing, about a hundred meters wide and it’s up to my chest, falling rapidly,” he recalls.
“I hear Gobi barking, squealing and yelping behind me. I just looked behind me and I could see her running up and down the bank.”
Up until this point Leonard’s race superstitions had prevented him from looking behind him to check on the dog, but suddenly he knew he couldn’t leave her behind.”
“I realized I could be the person who goes back there and helps her and changes her life, when no one actually did that for me when I was younger.”
When the ultra-marathon ended, Leonard had a new family member, but adopting a dog internationally is no simple matter. Gobi initially stayed with a local woman while Leonard went home to Edinburgh to start an adoption process that would take months.
Unfortunately, Gobi escaped her foster home not long after Leonard settled back into life in the UK with his wife, Lucja, and the couple’s Ragdoll cat, Lara. The escape came just after a crowdfunding campaign for Gobi’s adoption expenses turned her into a viral sensation. Leonard was devastated, and so were Gobi’s new fans.
“Perhaps she ran off looking for me, and that’s why she left where she was,” he explains. “I flew back to China and I set up a huge search team and volunteer team to scour the streets for her.”
Against the odds, in a city full of stray dogs, Gobi was found ten days later. She now lives like a princess in Edinburgh, according to Leonard, who tells their story in his adult book, a version for younger readers and through a picture book for children.
“We get a lot of messages from people around the world who say ‘we’ve taken the kids down to the shelter and we’ve picked up a dog because we’ve heard your story we wanted to find our Gobi’.”
That’s why Leonard hasn’t had Gobi’s DNA tested to check her lineage. He’s says Gobi’s taught him to look past breed labels and encourage adoption of so-called mutts. The tiny stray would never be found on a list of dogs for runners, but Gobi has certainly proved she’s the best dog for a certain ultra marathoner. Leonard plans to celebrate Gobi’s third birthday on June 20, the one-year anniversary of their first meeting.
(Picture Credit: @findinggobi)