New feature to focus on dogs outdoors

He looked patient, or was it sad? Definitely lonely.

Short white fur ran down the center of his head and spread out over his muzzle and down his solid little chest. Black fur surrounded his brown eyes and spread out over the rest of his body. My first thought was, “Cow — he looks like a dairy cow.”

A cute dairy cow. Dark skin formed the shape of a heart around his nose. His white-tipped tail wagged furiously across the cement floor of the kennel.

“Let’s ask to see him,” I said, turning to my boyfriend Derek. If I’d been a cartoon character, my eyes would probably have had hearts in place of pupils.

“I think I read about him online — and he doesn’t do well with cats,” Derek said apologetically. (I own two beloved cats.)

“Well, lets at least ask them,” I said, unflappable and already headed for the Bangor Humane Society’s front desk.

Half an hour later, we walked out the door with Oreo, a young pit bull mix. His tail was still wagging.

A detailed report from Oreo’s former foster family assured us this he acted fine with cats, that he was a good boy, and he was housebroken.

Oreo on May 9, 2013, on the day of his adoption.

“Oreo” — let’s say it wasn’t my favorite name. I wouldn’t name my pet after a cookie or any other type of food. I named pets after super heroes (my cat “The Green Arrow”) or famous animals (my late dog “Laika,” after the Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit Earth). But when the nice lady helping us with the paperwork asked me if I wanted to name Oreo something else, the only word that came to mind was “cow.” So I let it lie. Besides, at 7 months old, Oreo knew his name pretty well already. I didn’t want to confuse him.

When we let him off the leash in our fenced-in backyard, he sniffed and explored slowly. It was May 9, 2013, and he was instantly drawn to the fragrant lilac bush at the center of the yard. But when Derek and I walked inside to cook dinner, Oreo followed and didn’t let us out of his sight.

Oreo and I on May, 9, 2013, the day of his adoption.

Something had changed in his demeanor over the course of the evening. He started to look us in the eyes, which he hadn’t done at first.

When we sat down at the kitchen table, he put his front paws on my lap, then slowly  shifted forward and lifted a back foot. He was trying to crawl all the way up. I couldn’t resist. Scooping an arm under his butt, I helped him up onto my lap, where he sat, looking quite pleased — all 45 pounds of him.

Later that evening, after the sun went down, Oreo snuggled with us on the couch as we watched TV.

An average dog has the mental abilities of a 2-year-old child, according to a 2011 study out of the University of Florida. The study included a language development test that revealed that an average dog can learn 165 words (similar to a 2-year-old child), including signals and gestures. So I guess it’s not crazy to wonder if Oreo understood that we were his new family by the time he fell asleep in his dog bed that night. Or maybe he just thought we were friendly people who mysteriously possessed a vast quantity of yummy treats.

Even if he didn’t figure it out the first night, now more than two months later, Oreo knows that he’s with us to stay.

Oreo smells (or prepares to eat) wildflowers beside a trial in Beech Hill Preserve in Rockport on June 9, 2013.

Since that day in May, Oreo and I have been through some adventures, mostly outdoor adventures, and we’ve both learned a lot along the way. Because of Oreo, I’ve got a lot of new stories to tell, a few soapboxes to stand on, and a new curiosity about things like the contents of dog ice cream, the safety of bacon-flavored chew toys and pet rules at local parks.

So without further ado, I introduce “Let the Dog Out,” a new BDN Outdoors series about dogs in the outdoors. I have a whole list of topics to write about — from locally baked doggy snacks to learning to run with your dog on a leash — and I especially welcome questions, comments and suggestions from readers.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at