A dog named Gobi

Tena­cious lit­tle pooch fol­lows, and wins over Aussie run­ner in gru­elling desert race.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By TAN DAWN WEI

IT was the first night of a gru­elling seven-day 250km race across the Gobi Desert a year ago, when Dion Leonard first no­ticed a scruffy lit­tle dog with big round eyes go­ing around his camp try­ing to charm run­ners into giv­ing it food.

Cute, but I’m not giv­ing you any, he thought. Like all com­peti­tors, he had packed just enough in his 6.5kg back­pack for the whole course. The 42-year-old Aus­tralian had been run­ning com­pet­i­tively for three years, and he was run­ning to win.

The next day, at the start line, he no­ticed the pint-sized pooch next to him, its tail wag­ging. He waved it away, worried it might get tram­pled by the 100 or so run­ners as they made their way over the Tian Shan moun­tain range.

Still, the dog tagged along, fol­low­ing him across the moun­tain­top, through for­est ter­rain and over a river cross­ing be­fore end­ing at the fin­ish line for the day’s race hours later.

That night, it cosied up next to Leonard and even man­aged to coax a lit­tle food from him. “She smelled bad, had bad fur. And I was think­ing, could she have ra­bies?”

By then, he had de­cided to name her Gobi.

The pair went on to fin­ish the seven-day race, with Gobi cov­er­ing a dis­tance of 125km on her own, and win­ning Leonard over, enough for him to de­cide he would take her home to Ed­in­burgh where he lives with his wife Lucja.

“See­ing Gobi on the race changed my out­look on things. It made me think more about stop­ping and help­ing her, rather than just fo­cused on win­ning,” said Leonard, who fin­ished sec­ond. “It also made my run­ning more en­joy­able. I thought: if she could do it, so could I.”

As Leonard was pre­par­ing to get Gobi home, she went miss­ing from the home of one of the race or­gan­is­ers.

Leonard took off from Ed­in­burgh for Urumqi, cap­i­tal city of Xin­jiang, worried he would never find Gobi in the sprawl­ing, manic me­trop­o­lis of over three mil­lion peo­ple.

With the help of a core group of 20 local vol­un­teers, they scoured the city, putting up posters with an of­fer of a re­ward. They fi­nally found it, af­ter a mas­sive dog hunt over two weeks. Leonard wasn’t let­ting Gobi out of his sight from then on.

He was given sab­bat­i­cal by his firm, a whisky dis­tiller, and moved into a flat with Gobi in Bei­jing for four months while the dog did quar­an­tine time.

Fi­nally, in Jan­uary this year, the two made it back to Ed­in­burgh, where Gobi now shares the bed with her adop­tive par­ents and their nine-year-old cat Lara.

“Lots of Chi­nese peo­ple spoke about past life con­nec­tions. When she went miss­ing and we found her, I think that was dou­ble fate,” said Leonard, who last had a dog – a St Bernard – 15 years ago. When book pub­lisher Harper Collins came knock­ing ear­lier this year, he quit his man­age­ment job to write his and Gobi’s story.

Find­ing Gobi has taken the two­some on a book tour to cities in Bri­tain and the United States. The book will be trans­lated into 25 lan­guages.

A Hol­ly­wood movie by 20th Cen­tury Fox is also in the works. Leonard jok­ingly says he wouldn’t mind ei­ther Hugh Jack­man or Eric Bana – both fel­low Aus­tralians – play­ing him.

“It’ll be a lot harder to find a good Gobi though,” he said, laugh­ing. “You’ll prob­a­bly need 20 dogs to play her.”

The happy tyke’s favourite ac­tiv­ity is still run­ning, and she rou­tinely does at least 8km a day with Leonard up the hills in Ed­in­burgh.

“I don’t know if we’ll know the com­plete story of what hap­pened to her. If only she could speak,” he said, cud­dling Gobi.

And what would he ask her if she could? “Why me?”

— ANN

Leonard with Gobi at the start of a race. Their story will soon be made into a Hol­ly­wood movie.

With the help of a core group of 20 local vol­un­teers, Leonard scoured Urumqi, cap­i­tal city of Xin­jiang, for Gobi.

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