When one thinks of a celebrity, the first thing that might come to mind is a famed Hollywood actor.
In this case, the celeb has a winning personality, wiry hair, a big smile, and 4 legs!!
Gobi, a little terrier, well known in Europe, with a social media following, and a book written about him, is on an East Coast tour in America, with her entourage of her two humans, Dion Leonard and Leonard’s wife, Lucja.
Dion and Lucja are both marathon runners, and that is where Gobi’s story begins.
Dion was running a 155-mile marathon, across the Gobi desert in China. In what would seem a daunting task for most, Dion had participated in other grueling races across the Sahara and Kalahari Deserts, twice in the Moroccan Marathon des Sables.
In the very rugged hills of Tian Shan, seventy miles into the 155-mile race, a scruffy little dog, who appeared in the middle of literally nowhere, keeping up with the runners.
Everyone thought she would disappear after the first day, but she was always there. How did a little dog survive in the desert, through the high heat of the days and the cool nights, with limited access to food? As a result, the runners took pity, and started sharing their limited and meager rations with her. Soon, she became attached to Dion, in a way that seems miraculous. Their bond was formed. As time progressed, Dion realized he needed her as much as she needed him. The race became less about winning, and more about thinking of others, and of course, the scrappy little dog.
Deon tells us “Gobi just celebrated her 9th birthday on June 20th, that was the day we met in the desert!” They figured she was about 2 at the time.
“Who found who in the desert?” is the question Dion relays, of the miracle of finding this little dog. “We both became connected for obviously a bigger reason. But little did I know. I am out there trying to win the race; I am pushing as one of the front runners and couldn’t care less about anything else. The little dog chooses me out of everyone – there are 100 other runners out there that would have been a lot friendlier than I was. For some reason, she chose me, and that was it!”
Deon and Lucja agree, the terrier picked the right person – the one who would go to great lengths to bring her home after the race, and go to even greater lengths to find her, when she became lost in the Chinese city of Urumqi. .
“It wasn’t an easy journey, and I don’t think anyone else would have gone to such lengths. It was a pivotal moment, with the support of my wife, that probably we all have, at some point, to you take this or do you not. This took us both on a totally different journey. It was a big commitment to honor the promise I made to Gobi, in the desert, that I would take her home.” There was no leaving her behind.
It took 6 months to get her home, a lot of back and forth, including staying with Gobi during her quarantine.
As hard as it might be for some people to read books about the plight of animals, there is a happy ending to the story. As Deon says, “If we did not find her and bring her back, the would be no book, and no happy ending.” The couple are very thankful for the people in China and around the world who helped in Gobi’s recovery with support, posting flyers, donating funds for the reward and other things.
One of the groups that helped is Beijing’s The Little Adoption Shop, run by Chris Barden – they are still in contact. When Deon runs races, he raises money for them and another organization in Scotland, where the couple’s home is. Chris assured Deon and Lucja, when Gobi was lost, that she would be found within a 2-mile radius of where she was staying, despite the fact the city is “massively built up with 3 million people.” They trusted Chris and the process, and she was found.
The rumor that Chinese eat dogs, is no longer true. It started more that 40 or 50 years ago, when the reigning regime had all the people on a strict food allowance. When they ran out of food, dog meat was the alternative. There is a very, very small percentage of that population remaining, who might consider dog meat in their diet. Today’s generation, loves their dogs, sometimes dressing them up, and caring deeply for them. Even so, in the city where Gobi was lost, there is an overwhelming number of stray dogs who show up nightly at the shelters to eat.
Despite her unknown beginnings, Gobi is “super chilled”, and enjoys all the publicity. She wears her mantle of fame very well! The couple has been concentrating their efforts on the publicity tour, and inspirational speaking, although Lucja ran a 100-mile timed Old Dominion race in Woodstock. While here in the Valley, on their book promotion tour- they have visited schools, libraries, and corporate events. The book is in 24 languages now, a movie is coming. They have been interviewed on CBS, Fox, CNN, The Today Show, and had lots of press. Traveling in the US for 3 and a half years now, the story had already been “huge in the UK, China, France, etc.”. Their home base remains Scotland. After VA, they were on to North Carolina, PA, Atlanta, and Nashville for speaking tours through the end of this year. They stop back home from time to time.
The 4 enjoy the travels – Lara, their 18 year old Ragdoll cat is with them, and has her own book. “Life is an adventure, and we will see where it takes us!”
If only Gobi could talk, the first thing Deon would ask her would be “Why did you choose me?” One might say it was preordained, what started as winning the next big race, has taken Deon, Lucja, Gobi, and Lara, on a whole new path. All for the love of a tiny desert dog……
You can follow Deon, Lucja, Gobi, and Lara on social media.
on Facebook – Finding Gobi
IG – findinggobi
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucja’s Facebook- Running Dutchie
On Facebook – Chris Barden’s Little Adoption Shop
On Facebook – Dion Leonard Ultra Runner
Their 3 books (there is a Gobi children’s book also) can be found online and locally at J&B Country Store in Broadway.