STREET SMART: Jess has lived most of her life in the small Southern Downs township of Leyburn.
STREET SMART: Jess has lived most of her life in the small Southern Downs township of Leyburn.

Meet Jessie: A little dog with a big tale to tell

A HITCH-HIKING, West Australian Kelpie called Red Dog might have made his mark on the big screen, but out Leyburn way there's an aging canine with a story to rival the box office hit.

This is the tale of Jessie, an 18-year-old Kelpie, who first arrived at the local pub way back in 1995.

In the years since she has travelled across the south west, been kidnapped, brought the famed Leyburn Sprints to a halt, made it through Brisbane's Clem Jones Tunnel, eluded council dog catchers, become a regular at weekly art classes and taught the locals a thing or two about her dietary preferences.

Despite living most of her life without an "official" owner, the township's population of around 350 claim Jessie as one of their own, which simply means each October

her name goes up on the birthday board outside the Leyburn Store.

"No one really owns Jessie, she owns the town," explained David Young, who pays the small-framed red dog's registration fees, but can't claim possession.

Mr Young and his wife Elizabeth are among the many Leyburn residents whose generosity ensures Jessie never goes without meals and a bed.

This year in response to the little Kelpie turning 18 - the age Australian's link so synonymously with freedom - the Youngs and others shared her story with the Bush Tele.

It all started in 1995 when Jessie arrived as a puppy-size gift for the publican's son Bryce Reid.

"Bryce loved Jessie and Jessie loved Bryce, but as he grew up he got more into pig dogs," Mr Young explained.

Cattle trucks, school buses, cars she knows this is her town and she's most likely to be wherever people are, she loves people.

"Jessie just couldn't fit the criteria when it came to chasing pigs.

"It was never a case of him not looking after Jessie, it was simply that she made other friends in town."

Locals agree even from the outset she was a "friendly little thing" with a fondness for both people and her fellow canines; no one can recall her ever being in a dog fight.

The Youngs first met Jessie 15 years ago during a storm, when she sought refuge at their McIntyre St home.

They have been mates ever since.

A few years back the Reid family left, packing Jessie up and shifting first to Cambooya and then to Dirranbandi.

"Jessie always knew Leyburn locals though, we saw her one day in Cambooya and she was her usual friendly self," Mr Young said.

A while later when Bryce Reid left to work in the mining sector the little Kelpie returned to Leyburn this time without an official owner, but with a town committed to looking out for her wellbeing.

"We loved having Jessie back and she knew her way around," Mr Young said.

"She's always made regular visits to different people."

Others confirm aspects of her routine: like late afternoon walks to the end of Talgai St from which she reappears after "about 20 minutes" walking down the council laneway beside the tennis courts generally with a "brisket bone or sausage" in her mouth.

Yet not everyone has always felt the little Kelpie was well cared for: at one stage she was kidnapped by out-of-towners convinced she was being neglected.

"She just disappeared and we thought she must have been shot after she looked at someone's sheep," Mr Young confessed.

However the resilient little dog reappeared, looking slightly dishevelled, a few months later.

"Jessie is terribly independent, she likes her freedom, you can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do," his wife explained.

Her stubbornness extends to the bitumen.

Local retiree Ron Wheelan reckons if she is on the street drivers have no choice but to go around her.

"She doesn't shift for anyone and everyone around sort of knows that," he said.

"She'll stand right in the middle of the road and people just have to go around her."

One year - no one is truly sure of the date - she stopped the town's famed Leyburn Sprints, simply by wandering onto the track, which every other day of the year is her bitumen pathway around town.

"She's not scared of traffic, it doesn't matter what it is," Mr Young said.

"Cattle trucks, school buses, cars she knows this is her town and she's most likely to be wherever people are, she loves people."

However not everyone was out to make friends with the little dog, but somehow Jessie knew instinctively to stay out of sight when the Southern Downs Regional Council dog catchers arrived in town.

"She always seems to know when the council dog catchers were here and she made herself scarce," Mrs Young laughed.

"We were getting worried though now she is so old that if the council picked her up they might have her put her down.

"So we made the decision to register her as a resident dog at our place.

"We have explained the situation to the council and hopefully if they see her around they will be understanding.

"For the first time she has her own dog tag."

But the love of a town doesn't end with food and an official Southern Downs Regional Council registration.

These days the little dog has a permanent bed on Amanda Young's front veranda with bedding laundered daily on account of a slight incontinence issue, the legacy of countless litters.

Her night-time guardians also ensured she is treated for fleas. Each morning she wanders next door to David and Elizabeth Young's for a ritual bowl of milk.

"She's a very fussy little eater on account of her early days in the pub," Mrs Young said.

"She likes eye fillet steak and mince, but not the pet food kind, and she won't touch vegetables and chips.

"And she prefers to eat off a plate rather than put her head in a bowl."

Other regular stopovers include the homes of Sharon Williams, Margaret and John Melon and the Leyburn Store and of course the Royal Hotel.

Yet there are days when the kelpie adheres to a stricter schedule: like Thursday mornings when she joins the local artists for their weekly workshop behind the pub.

She's been a member of the art group for close to a decade, although these days her age being what it is, she hitches a lift in the car with Elizabeth Young and Deborah Ninis as opposed to walking the 200m from her evening base.

"Once she'd get in the back of a ute for a ride, but these days she prefers air-conditioning," Mrs Young said.

"She'll go anywhere in a car: we've taken her to Brisbane, even driven through Clem Jones Tunnel with her on the seat and she likes to go to Pittsworth for a change of scene from time to time."

Locals agree her preferences for comfortable travel and quality food are just part of this old dog's wise outlook on life.

"She is definitely wise, knows her own mind and has always been very independent and very determined," Mrs Young explained.

"She gets her own way, she just does it nicely."

REST AREA: Hanging out in front of the QCWA hall in Leyburn.
REST AREA: Hanging out in front of the QCWA hall in Leyburn.

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