Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Big Heart". The author is an ultramarathon runner who crossed paths with a stray dog while competing in a 155-mile race through the Gobi Desert in China in 2016.
As soon as I sat down in the tent, the dog curled up next to me -- I started thinking about germs and diseases. It’s crucial during a weeklong race to keep as clean as possible because without any access to showers or wash basins, it’s easy to get sick from anything you touch.
The dog was looking right into my eyes, just as it had earlier that morning. I had a few hours before my six-thirty meal, so I pulled out one of the packs of nuts and biltong.
The dog’s stare was unbreakable.
With a piece of meat midway to my mouth, it struck me that I hadn’t seen the dog eat a thing all day. It had run the best part of a marathon, and still it wasn’t trying to beg or steal any of the food I had in front of me.
“Here you go,” I said, tossing half the meat down onto the tarpaulin in front of it, instinct telling me that feeding by hand wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.
The dog chewed, swallowed, spun around a few times, and lay down. Within seconds it was snoring, then twitching, then whimpering as it drifted deeper and deeper into sleep.
I woke up to the sound of grown men cooing like school kids.
“Ah, how cute is that?”
“Isn’t that the dog from last night? Did you hear she followed him all day?”
She. The dog had run with me all day, and I’d never thought to check what sex it was.
I opened my eyes. The dog was staring right at me, looking deeper into my eyes than I would have thought possible. I checked. They were right. It wasn’t an it. It was a she.
“Yeah,” I said to Richard and the rest of the guys. “She stuck with me all day. She’s got a good little motor on her.”
Some of the guys fed her, and again she took whatever she was given, but gently. It was almost as though she knew she was getting a good deal here and she needed to be on her best behavior.
I told the guys I’d been wondering where she came from and that I’d guessed she’d belonged to whoever owned the yurts we’d stayed in the previous night.
“I don’t think so,” said Richard. “I heard some of the other runners say she joined them out on the dune yesterday.”
That meant she had put in almost fifty miles in two days. I was staggered.
It also meant she didn’t belong to the people back at the previous camp or to one of the race organizers.
“You know what you’ve got to do now, don’t you?” said Richard.
“You’ve got to give her a name.”
Excerpted from "Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart" written by Dion Leonard Copyright 2017 (Thomas Nelson).
Dion Leonard is an Australian/British runner who currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dion started running in 2013 and has already achieved numerous top 10 finishes in ultra races around the world in the most extreme condition.