When Oreo gets strapped up for a walk, she wears a leash plus a harness. It’s done for her safety and her handlers’ peace of mind.
This adventurous mutt might more appropriately be outfitted with a backpack. Oreo is a hiker. A solo hiker. An escape artist, too. A traveler who has fans across Blount County, but doesn’t have a home.
Her story — as far as what’s known — begins at the Blount County Animal Center. That’s where it ends for now.
“We don’t know a whole lot about her,” said Donna Henderson, a volunteer with the animal center. “She’s always been skittish of people. She doesn’t growl. She doesn’t bark. She just looks at you with those sweet soulful eyes. You just wish she could tell you what all she’s been through before she got here. I just took a liking to her, all the volunteers did. We’d get her out and walk her.”
After her walks, Oreo returns to her enclosure, almost always.
Karen League, kennel manager, remembers when Oreo arrived at the Blount County Animal Center in August 2018. She came in the back of a pickup with a covered bed. She’d already extricated herself from a metal wire crate. The man who surrendered her said he couldn’t keep her on his property. She kept digging and climbing her way out.
“She’s a (street) dog but she’s friendly. We didn’t know all of this at the beginning, and we were all just trying to get her used to us. We fell in love with her but she’s kind of a distant type of dog. She likes us, but she tolerates us,” League said. “She’s a nice dog.”
Oreo’s immediate needs were medical. That’s where the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation comes in. SMACF raised $1.2 million for center construction and pays for Dr. Michelle Williams to be the staff veterinarian.
“It’s the love of animals that really shines in Oreo’s case,” said Diane Martin, president of SMACF.
Oreo needed pyometra surgery to save her life. Basically she was emergency spayed, and also treated for heart worms.
One day in February while being walked, Oreo made her escape from the leash and halter. Mostly she hung around the center but refused to be captured. Then, as the only center in Tennessee authorized to use tranquilizer darts, Williams calculated the amount of drug needed for a 50-pound dog. Jim Naelitz, director of the center, shot her with the dart. Oreo took off running with League on her heels.
“I chased her for about a mile and then she fell over — and so did I,” League says, recounting Oreo’s reluctant return to the animal center on Valentine’s Day.
So it went, with Oreo again befriending her canine buddies only to see them be adopted.
Then, after almost a year at the center, she got the opportunity to go to a foster home off Hunt Road. It was a perfect situation for about a week. Then in early August Oreo figured out how to use a dead stump along the fence to dig out.
This time she was extra wary. Oreo would turn up around the center on occasion, but always ran off before she could be darted again.
Volunteers put an ad with a photo in The Daily Times classifieds: “Lost – Oreo (mixed-breed dog) a sweet escape artist.” Social media picked up the hunt. When people spotted Oreo they would call at 9 p.m., 3 a.m., 7 a.m. Didn’t matter when, Henderson took all calls.
Oreo was seen at Maryville College, on the far side of McGhee Tyson Airport, at Pellissippi Place and Jackson Hills, at Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School, down Sandy Springs Road, at St. Ive’s subdivision and Green Meadow Country Club.
One day Oreo was spotted not far from Coning Farm and Henderson got a call.
“She had traveled 12 to 15 miles. I got off and drove there just to see if I could see her. And I did, behind some houses on Best Road. I got out and talked to her and walked a little bit and she’d run from me and she’d come back, run from me and come back. We spent about an hour-and-a-half like that, and then she finally went off into the woods. So I thought, ‘Well, fiddle!’”
Henderson and League ultimately decided it might be a good time to put out a trap for Oreo, figuring she had to be getting tired. After all, Henderson’s car had gotten a workout, adding 1,000 miles to the odometer traveling to Oreo sightings.
They’d been leaving food and water for her at night in the woods not far from the Boys and Girls Club.
“Karen rigged up a trap, covered it up with camouflage, and we took a blanket from one of the dogs (Bam Bam) she liked to play with and put it in with the food. Come Friday morning (Sept. 6) she was in it. It took us four weeks and a day,” Henderson said.
So Oreo’s back home. Leaner, more muscular, paws in good shape. And looking for a forever home.