My dog and the mystery garden vandal

The backyard is Oreo’s domain. Show up to the house and ask him, he’ll tell you — in a matter of barks.

He established this early on. And it makes sense. On the day we adopted Oreo, we brought him straight to the yard — which is completely fenced in, thanks to the former owners of the property — and let him loose. It was his first experience of home.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki
Oreo pruning the giant lilac bush in his backyard, summer 2013.

Yes, the backyard is definitely Oreo’s special place. And that includes the giant lilac bush (which he takes it upon himself to prune frequently — a nibble here, a nibble there); the rock garden (which he perceives as an obstacle course); the kiddie pool (where he runs in circles and bites waves); the basketball hoop (which he must constantly protect from people chucking balls at); the lawn (where he practices fung shui with his toys); and the flower garden (where he snacks on chives, drinks from a lovely glass bowl set right at head level and retrieves delicious blocks of seeds from miniature houses the humans like to dangle from poles).

So when someone started messing with Oreo’s flower garden, digging up his mulch and gnawing on his chives, he was none too impressed. And he could tell that the humans didn’t seem happy about it either.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki
Oreo is really loving his kiddie pool on Aug. 15, 2013.

Oreo began to watch the garden more closely on his daily patrol of the premises. Unfortunately, he could never seem to catch the culprit in the act.

After a while, he began to suspect the two resident cats — Bo and Arrow — who were certainly malicious enough to vandalize his domain. Yet, the cats never went outside.

So he wondered, could it be his friend Dexter, the neighbor’s black lab-collie mix? He’d hate to accuse his playmate of such a thing. Yet the more he thought about it …. Dexter was sneaky. For example, he had caught Dexter stealing his deer antlers and ropes on several occasions.

But Dexter’s slate was wiped clean on one sunny day in August when Oreo glanced up from chewing his Kong Ball and spied a brown creature emerging from the flower garden. Intent on bringing the criminal to justice, he leapt up and said, “bark!” (Rough translation: “Stop now and put your paws where I can see them.”)

The groundhog, the first time we found it in the garden, weeks before Oreo scared him off.

Yet the creature kept going, right across Oreo’s carefully decorated lawn and into the rock garden at the edge of the yard.

Oreo was fed up.

In a few graceful bounds, he pinned the furry creature to the ground. But it was slippery and wiggly, and in a matter of seconds, it escaped Oreo’s paws and squeezed through a gap in the fence.

The humans were late in assisting. They stood nearby, eyes wide. “The groundhog!” one gasped. (Clearly, they knew who the culprit was all along and hadn’t told Oreo.)

The groundhog hasn’t been back since. All in all, Oreo, a job well done.

A little bit about groundhogs: They’re a big squirrel — the biggest squirrel, actually, according to National Geographic. At about 13 pounds, the average groundhog is the size of a large house cat. Though people associate them with the ground, understandably, they can climb trees and are decent swimmers, too. And as herbivores, they eat grass, plants, fruit and tree bark, making them a common problem for gardeners like Oreo. For information about groundhogs, visit


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