I have been wearing the same pair of pants for four days straight. Before you decide that I am either a hoarder or demented and stop reading my blog forever, consider this. Dogs love to sniff everything. According to a well-known dog expert, dogs rely on their noses first. All dog lovers know this; that’s why you see them waiting patiently as their dogs pause at a bush or telephone pole to smell the last dog’s deposit. A former employer of mine called this dog-world communication, “pee-mail.” You see, or should I say “smell,” the world differently when you are controlled by your nose.
For a short while before I began teaching at the local university, I worked for a local pet service company. I loved that job. My clients adored me. I know this because they enthusiastically greeted me every time I walked in the door. As soon as my key clinked in the lock, I could hear their nails clicking on the floor—the cadence becoming more frenetic as I turned the knob. Each client had a slightly different greeting. Some ran in circles while barking excitedly, some sat expectantly, and some started wagging their metronome-like tails so hard, their backsides swung in unison to music only the dog could hear. (When is the last time your client jumped straight up higher than his own head when you walked into his office? Hmmm?)
What every pup had in common was a need to smell me to make sure that I was who they thought I was. Was I still emanating those same aromatics as yesterday? Were my pheromones mixed in the same combinations? What volatiles floated around my feet and face? Was I truly who I claimed to be? To aid in this canine ID process, I wore the same dirty coat and gloves every day. (A habit I’m sure certain humans found questionable.) I tried to wear a pair of jeans at least two days in a row. And the dogs loved me for it. I smelled; they sniffed. Could a human-canine friendship be built on a better foundation than that? I found that they listened better and obeyed my commands because they felt secure with me. (And for all of you about to close your browser with an, “eww,” not to worry, I put on fresh clothing when I reentered the human world.)
I can relate to this need. Before my son was born, I had a remarkable sense of smell. I inherited this talent from my mother who could detect curdling milk before the carton was opened. I knew my mother was baking not by the aroma of cookies in the oven, but first by the smell a bag of flour gives off when it’s opened. When I sat in my cubicle at work, I determined my coworkers’ activities by the odors filling the air around me. I noted that Joanne had ranch dressing on her salad, Neal just got back from his cigarette break, and Julie had opened her bottle of Wite-Out®. Assuming that everyone mapped their world with the help of his nose, I took this gift for granted.
Then my son was born, and I unwittingly surrendered his infant person to daycare. The latter are incubi for viral plague. Disease lingers in every corner while babies and toddlers crawl thru pestilence. It’s not the children’s fault or the business owners’. That’s just the way it is when you have that many children occupying a small space. For three months, Kevin brought home every microorganism that stole its way into the building. He would sniffle. I would cough and hack and blow my nose until my upper lip was a crusty mess. My coworkers finally turned me away the day I showed up looking like a dying vampire with conjunctivitis. No sleep and five simultaneous infections will do that to you. Three medications and one week later, I was finally well again. Except for one thing. I could no longer detect those subtle or lingering scents. I never realized how much I took them for granted until they were gone.
So if Ginger wants to smell my dirty socks so that she can fall asleep or bury her head in the pungent pant legs I’ve been wearing for four days, I will support her. Smells are reassuring and wonderful; she knows this like only a dog can.