If ever proof was needed that dogs really are man’s best friend, this is surely it.
Edinburgh-based runner Dion Leonard was readying himself for a punishing stage of the four deserts challenge in a remote part of China’s Gobi desert and was more than a little surprised to see a small dog lining up alongside him as he got on the start line.
Four days and 77 miles later, Dion and Gobi – as she was appropriately named – had become inseparable and the 41-year-old is leading the campaign to bring her to Edinburgh.
“We started the first stage and I saw this little dog kind of running in between the legs of some other runners,” he said.
“I didn’t really pay that much attention to her then, but on day two she was right by my side at the start line.
“In my mind there was no way this little dog was going to make it; we were meant to run 23 miles that day, but every time I looked down she was right there staring back at me.
“That night, she curled up in my tent next to me and that was it, we couldn’t be parted.”
Over the course of the race Gobi became something of a mascot in the 100-runner camp, even picking up a stage winners’ medal along the way.
“On day three we were crossing rivers where the water was up to your stomach, so I had to carry her across,” Dion – originally from Queensland – said.
“I had this heavy bag on my back with all my supplies which was already weighing me down and I was carrying Gobi in my left arm.
“We ended up winning that stage, I think I was first and she was second; we passed some of the other runners in the last 25 metres, so I’m not sure how they felt about that.”
Gobi couldn’t run on the final two days, with the 52 degree heat proving too much for her, but it was on those days, when Dion didn’t have her alongside him, he decided he had to try to bring her home, opting to start a crowdfunding campaign which has since more than tripled its initial £5000 target.
Even then, Gobi would wait at the finish line and join Dion, of Brunton Terrace, for the final 25 metres.
Dion, who works for distillers William Grant & Sons, hopes his new best friend will be able to join him and wife Lucja, for Christmas. Clearly there will be certain legislative hurdles to cross but Dion is upbeat.
“I set up the crowdfunding campaign really just to get a few of the guys in the camp to chip in a dollar or two, but the money we’ve raised could pay for it three times over.
“The support we’ve had from all over the world has been amazing, I can’t thank people enough. It would be an amazing Christmas present to have her here by the end of the year.
“My wife and I run together a lot, especially around Arthur’s Seat. I can see Gobi going round there a few times.
“Maybe she’ll see it as a step down, but I think she’ll be perfectly adapted to the climate.”