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A pup’s nose view of the neighborhood

Photo by Wendy Bale A dog in the house brings a whole new perspective on what happens in the neighborhood.

There are things in life that shake everything up. These events hit your life like an earthquake, shaking things apart and rebuilding life in unanticipated ways. For me, those events included marriage, having kids and, now, getting a puppy. If you are one of the people that has had to suffer through my first dog stories, I apologize. You can stop reading now.

This is really my first dog and I could write a lot about how much the puppy has changed things, but what I really want to write about is the intimate relationship the pup has with her sense of smell.

The puppy’s name is Nora, and she is a Labrakita. Her mom was a Yellow Lab and her dad was an Akita. I don’t know if all dogs do this, but she seems to assess her world through her nose and mouth. Generally speaking, these are among the last ways that I assess the world. I mostly look and listen to things before I smell them or shove them in my mouth. Her way of exploring has changed my perception of what is happening in the neighborhood.

I have walked my neighborhood hundreds of times, wandering the sidewalks and streets of the area. We see neighbors, watch gardens and children grow, see houses evolve and keep in touch with the local world. At no time in all of that have I wondered about the smells around me, unless it was the smell of burning trash.

Nora walks with her nose to the ground, pausing in random spots and racing ahead to smell other spots. Sometimes it is easy to guess what she is interested in: a spilled package of ramen here, a dead bird there, or a tree that is obviously marked by lots of dogs. Other times, it is an absolute mystery.

Photo by Jeff Tome. The dog smelled how many deer went to the bathroom in the yard before I noticed the damage they did to the raspberry bushes.

Sometimes, I can guess what is going on, which is part of the fun. One spot was where a friend’s poodle sat to meet her. Another spot was where a neighbor’s dog ran through the front yard. The smelly spot under the Redbud is where the tiny dog across the street goes to the bathroom.

It is fun to solve mysteries, and I like to look at where she sniffs and try to guess what is going on. She spends a lot of time sniffing under my car where the rabbit likes to sit in the morning. She has found a lot of animal droppings in the yard, including deer, rabbit and coyote. I have long suspected that the coyote passed through the yard, but only found evidence with Nora’s help.

These are things I never noticed before and would never notice without Nora’s nose giving me a new glimpse into a world of smells that I can’t detect. I have read descriptions from nature writers about how animals perceive smell.

One writer, Paul Rezendes, described an animal’s sense of smell by thinking of every footprint you make as leaving a purple mark of scent. Picture every animal and person that walks past as leaving a purple mark of scent. Now think of every place you have walked in the last week, and every place every animal has walked, as leaving a purple mark with every step. Now picture fresh steps as bright purple and older steps as a dimmer purple. The world in my imagination is soon covered by purple dots of varying intensity.

It is quickly apparent that my pup is gathering a lot of information as she walks with her nose to the ground. She knows who and what has been walking through the area. She knows whether they came recently or not. She knows whether people come weekly or daily.

Photo by Jeff Tome Every chipmunk hole is an adventure to a dog.

I live in a neighborhood where several people walk on a regular basis. Some people walk their dogs. Some folks walk for their health. Some run. Some jog. Children walk by the house daily to get to the bus stop. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to me that they leave a path of scent behind of which I am blissfully unaware.

I try to imagine those purple dots of scent now as I walk and watch Nora’s nose at work. Whose scent does she smell now? Is it a dog? A person? A deer? My neighborhood feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time as I watch her nose hard at work. There is hidden dimension to the landscape that I can’t see, can’t smell and can’t sense in any way, but which a dog navigates with ease.

I wonder how many other things in life are like that. I never knew what I was missing of the scents in my neighborhood until the puppy showed me. The puppy is already more of an expert on the neighborhood smells than I ever will be, but I can watch that super nose work with great respect. What else is out there that others see and I have no clue about? What do I see that others walk right past? We all bring to the world a unique view that perhaps only we see. We do not know what we do not know until something changes our perspective. What do you notice about the world that most other people miss?

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