ARARAT - She might not be a red Kelpie, but Border Collie Jess is Ararat's own 'Red Dog' after curiosity saw her endure a cold and wet trip clinging to the fuel tank of a truck travelling across Victoria.
Jess' adventure demonstrated the benefits of microchipping, as without a microchip it is doubtful she would have been returned to owners Sandra and Ian Bell and son Jono.
The family's drama began last Thursday night when they first noticed Jess was missing from the yard.
They spent many hours looking for Jess, visiting neighbours, driving the streets and calling out for her but were unable to find her.
"We reported her missing to the police and were still out looking for her when we received a phone call from an animal shelter in Hallam, near Dandenong saying they had Jess, someone had brought her in to see if she could be identified," Mrs Bell said.
Horsham truck driver, Glenn Johnson, had been at AME Systems in Ararat picking up his load when Jess had wandered in and decided to jump up on his fuel tank, directly behind the cabin.
"Glenn hadn't noticed Jess sitting there when he left and drove straight through to his destination," Mrs Bell said
"Imagine his surprise to find a near frozen but very loving Border Collie cowering on his fuel tank when he stepped out of his truck.
"How she didn't fall off and get run over and killed I don't know."
"The driver thought she just must have curled up and was lying against the hoses on the back of the truck."
Another employee at the depot in Dandenong wrapped Jess up and took her straight to the Animal Emergency Centre in Hallam, with staff there able to immediately identify her because of her microchip.
"When Cathy rang from the shelter she informed us that Jess was safe, happy and was being spoilt," she said.
"She had been dried down and fed spaghetti for tea!"
Generously Mr Johnson offered to return Jess to her home if she was able to be identified.
"We were grateful that not only was Jess lucky to be alive but that she had chosen to go for a ride on the right truck, as Glenn was obviously a dog lover himself," Mrs Bell said.
"It was around 2.30am (the same night) that the truck pulled up in Barkly Street with Jess sitting up proudly in the passenger seat as if she was the owner.
"I opened the door and she jumped down and was as pleased to see me as I was to see her."
When Mr Johnson showed Mrs Bell the photo he had taken of Jess when he had found her on the back of his truck, it struck home just how lucky Jess had been.
"I was shocked to think she had sat there all that way, she looked absolutely frozen," she said.
Mr Johnson was just as amazed she had survived the trip.
He said he was loading freight out of AME Systems on Thursday night as he usually does and on arriving at his destination in Dandenong caught a glimpse of Jess sitting on the fuel tank in his mirrors - the first time he had noticed her in the three hour trip from Ararat.
Initially Mr Johnson thought 'one of the blokes' from a Swan Hill depot he also loads out of had played a trick on him, but soon realised Jess had genuinely hitch hiked, although he was unaware where she had come from.
"Mark, who is a caring sort of bloke, grabbed her and took her to the vet, and they found a chip in her," he said.
"She was a bit of a celebrity there!"
Mr Johnson, who was seen driving through the Burnley Tunnel with Jess on board and received a notice for having an unrestrained dog on his truck, was also amazed that she managed to stay on board throughout the whole trip.
"She must have gripped on with her claws to the holes in the floor," he said.
"I was a bit worried about her, the weather was bad and she was really wet. I'd like to thank the vet and all the people who helped to get her back home.
"I'm just glad she's home and she's healthy and happy, she is a beautiful pup."
Without the microchip, inserted by Ararat vet John Brennan, it is unlikely Jess would have been returned to the family.
Ararat Rural City Council local laws officer Geoff Waller said it has been compulsory since 2007 to have newly registered dogs microchipped and also any animal whose registration has lapsed for more than 12 months must also be microchipped before they can be re-registered.
Council has held a number of microchipping days in the past, the last one two years ago, and Mr Waller said council was looking at the possibility of holding another day next year.
Mr Waller also stressed the importance of keeping records up to date, as pets cannot be reunited with their owners if the owners have not kept contact details current on the microchipping website.
The family is grateful Jess had been microchipped, saving them the heartbreak of losing their dog for good.
"We had Jess desexed and when we did John said did we want to get her microchipped and I said 'just do it'," Mrs Bell said.
"She's always in a proper yard, but look what happened to us, it's so silly not to.
"I was beside myself, I keep thinking how long would we have been out there looking for her. It's the not knowing, we were still driving around Ararat looking for her when we got the phone call.
"I hate to think of people losing their pets."
Despite her adventures, Jess is recovering well.
"She has sore legs, probably from trying to hang on, and is a bit timid, we took her to the vet and John said she is still in shock and it was a traumatic event, but she'll come around," Mrs Bell said.
"Thank God for caring truck drivers and microchips."