Dog Celebrity Gobi and Owner Dion Leonard in Zagreb Promoting their Book

Total Croatia News


Dion Leonard is an ultra-marathoner, who went through a life-changing event while on a race in the Gobi desert, where he met and decided to adopt a stray dog he later named Gobi.

The love-at-first-sight story of Dion and Gobi caught the attention of numerous media portals when it was happening in 2016, and the interest led to Dion writing a book about his journey, titled Finding Gobi: The True Story of a Little Dog and an Incredible Journey. The book became an instant hit and a New York Times bestseller with numerous editions sold around the world, so Dion, his wife Lucja, and Gobi came to Zagreb to promote the Croatian translation of the book. Total Croatia News sat down for an interview with them before the main promotional event at the Hoću Knjigu megastore in the centre of Zagreb.

I first asked Dion to re-tell the story of how he and Gobi met:

It was 2016, and I was in China, in the Xinjian province, for a multi-stage (7 days, six stages, basically a marathon each day) race of around 155 miles (approximately 250 kilometres). On the second day of the race, I looked down and saw a small dog at my feet. At first, I thought that it was a distraction, I was very competitive, and hoping to win the race as it has been my return to racing after a year of recovery from an injury. But then the dog started running next to me and keeping up with my pace (author’s note: you absolutely need to see Gobi in person to be able to fully appreciate how small she is, and how short her legs are, so, how difficult that must’ve been for her).

She began to grow on me, and for her, it was obvious that she fell in love with me at that first moment. I took care of her, fed her and made sure she was okay – mind you, it’s a race where you need to bring everything with you, food, shelter, the only thing you get at checkpoints is the water. And after a couple of days, a massive moment came when the runners had to cross a big river, 100 meters wide and with a strong current. I was third at that point, and I could just see the two other guys in front of me, I jumped into the river and made it halfway across when I heard her barking and yelping from the bank. There’s no way she could’ve made it across safely. It was a split-second decision for me to turn around and get her, and give up any chance of winning the race, and that’s precisely what I did. That night I named her Gobi, after the desert, and made her a promise to bring her back home with me to Edinburgh.

But, it turns out that was easier said than done, right?

Well, yes. Gobi didn’t run all of the stages with me, because it was too hot for her to do so, and I asked the organisers to help me and bring her to the stage finish. But, when we got to the finish , it became clear that Gobi would have to stay in China for a while. It just took some time for me to be able to make arrangements for her to go to Beijing, go through the paperwork and vaccinations and the quarantine requirements before being able to board a plane to the UK.

I left her with some people who promised to take care of her while I made all of that happen, and right after I found someone willing to make sure the process was as smooth as possible, I got a phone call to tell me that she was lost. It was a nightmare, I was in Edinburgh, I wasn’t sure that anyone was telling me the truth, I felt like I needed to do something so I just decided to go back.

Urumqi, the town where she was supposed to be, is a very desolate place, very distant from the rest of China in terms of geography, language, religion, customs… It’s also as far as you can get away from an ocean in the world! I got there with the idea that I would try and find her, but I didn’t speak the language nor did I have any help, except for one lady that volunteered right away to look for Gobi. But, then word got out, international media got interested, we were featured on CNN, BBC, ABC, FOX, I was able to crowdfund some money to help the search, more people got involved, including the Chinese Government.

It was a crazy period (and you can read all about it in the book!), but after a while, and when I was starting to feel that I’d never be able to find her, we got a call from a family who wasn’t sure that it was her, but that they’d found a dog. And yes, it was her, and when she saw or heard me, she jumped right back to how we met, on my feet, among all those people who were there with me. Now that we were back together, it was just a matter of time and patience to bring her back home with me.


And how has she adapted to her life in Europe and her life as a celebrity?

She’s done perfectly. She’s a very happy dog, always happy to be around us, loves the people, loves the crowds. She’s met the Queen and other members of the Royal family, she’s met movie stars and rock stars, and enjoys that. Her official racing days are over, but she loves to run around Chamonix, where the family has since moved to, she enjoys the snow more than the heat – but that is not too strange, because although she comes from a desert, she came to me on the Tian Shan mountain range, so she probably knew of snow. She’s not a big fan of the sea/ocean, perhaps because she’s never seen it in her previous life, and her first jump in was at a beach in Scotland, and it was very cold, so she came right out and decided she wasn’t much of a fan.

You’ve been in Croatia for a few days, has she maybe changed her mind here?

We were in Lovran for a few days before coming to Zagreb and, no, not really, while the sea and the beach looked beautiful to us, she only got in a little bit and then came out, sorry to say.

You said that Gobi’s racing days are over, but there will be a race in Zagreb organised, and it’s for a cause that’s very important to you?

Yes, one of the things that I wanted to accomplish when I decided to write the book was to raise awareness of the importance of adopting dogs or pets in general. Gobi was a stray, in a very dire situation, living where she was, but adopting her has truly changed my life so much for the better!

She now lives with me, my wife Lucja and our cat Lara (who now also has a book, although a fiction story, not a true story like Gobi’s), and helping other dogs in her situation, without owners or a loving home, is a vital goal for us. That’s why we’re happy to be participating in the race on Saturday, with the aim of fundraising for the Zagreb shelter. We hope that many people will come to the race and run the 5 km with us. Still, if you can’t make it, you can help the pets at the shelter in many different ways: financial donations, you can donate other items they might need (such as blankets or similar stuff, now that the winter is coming), you can go and take a walk with the dogs there, to make their days brighter while they’re waiting for “forever home”… Or, the best thing yet, you can adopt a dog and bring them home with you!


The race will be held at Maksimir Park, on Saturday, October the 19th, with the event starting at 10:00. You’ll be able to meet Gobi, many other dogs, donate to the shelter (all of the proceeds from the race will also be donated to them), enjoy a lovely autumn day in Zagreb’s greatest park – whether you decide to run the 5 km race or not! 

Read more about Croatian pets on TCN


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment