They’ve known each other for only a few months, but this love story between an Australian ultramarathoner and a Chinese stray dog has seen extraordinary highs and lows.
As Dion Leonard raced last March, a little brown dog started following him for miles across the Gobi Desert. The two quickly fell for each other and he named her Gobi. “When she came into camp she followed me straight into my tent, laid down next to me and that was that – a bond had been developed,” Leonard said in a blog post from the race.
Gobi kept him company during four of the six stages in the grueling 155-mile race, “showing unique strength and stamina,” as Leonard wrote.
“I didn’t [adopt her], Gobi seemed to adopt me!” Leonard said. “The dog was more famous than anyone in the race. She was in everyone’s blogs and emails and was all over the race photos making her the star of the race.”
Soon, Leonard was making plans to bring Gobi to his home in Scotland. As he explained, the process would take about four months for medical checks and quarantine. She was being cared for in the city of Urumqi, awaiting transfer to Beijing for the quarantine process.
But then, alarming news: “[W]e received a phone call that Gobi has been missing in Urumqi, China for a number of days and she has still not been found,” Leonard wrote. A frantic search ensued. Leonard flew in from Edinburgh, and he said he went at least 34 hours without sleep, looking for his beloved pup.
In Urumqi and nearby rural villages, Leonard and the search team canvassed residents and hung up fliers in search of the lost canine. To find her would be “nothing short of a miracle,” Leonard tweeted. There were numerous sightings that turned out not to be the real Gobi.
As The Washington Post explained, “Urumqi is a huge city of 3 million people, and he feared the dog could even have run back into the countryside that surrounds it, where people speak the Uighur language, don’t use social media and were unlikely to even be aware of the campaign.”
“It’s a bit of a goose chase; we’re trying our best to remain positive,” he said in a video posted on his Twitter feed.
Further adding to Leonard’s worries: As we saw in the race, “she is quite a good runner so it’s just hoping she hasn’t run too far,” he tweeted.
But then something miraculous happened. As the Post reported, a Chinese man called and said he and “his son had seen a small stray dog in a local park while walking his own dog. They had brought her home and thought she could be the one.”
Turns out the helpful stranger was right. “She came running over towards me, she basically ran round my legs, jumped up on me,” Leonard told BBC Radio 5 live. “It was love again at immediate sight so it was just an amazing feeling and I’m just so grateful for all the help that’s been put into finding her over here.”
These images, posted by Leonard immediately after the reunion, show how joyful the pair is:
Dion struck a more serious tone about the ups and downs of the search to the BBC. “It’s been really difficult to remain positive in front of everyone else, and I’ve been getting back to my room very late at night and falling into a bit of a heap to be honest. I just realized that every day slipping by was another day that we weren’t going to find her before I had to go back to the U.K.”
He concluded: “This day is one of the best days of my life.”