If for Just One Day We Could Smell as a Dog Does
How might our lives be changed?
Posted Jun 28, 2017
On our lazy summer evening walks our yearling puppy Holden, still ungainly in his bulky paws as he tromps across our meadow, I scratch my head and watch in wonder as he pauses at tree stumps, grass clumps, and rocks to take in the nuances of their scents—oftentimes sniffing for minutes on end with newfound fascination. While I stand nearby and cluelessly watch him, as much as I try to understand (and many times wish that we’d just move on), he is lost to an aura I can only imagine. I envision a dog’s world with clouds of aromas—some muted pastels, some lusciously brilliant, painted on tree trunks, seeping from crevices, and wafting aimlessly in the breeze. Enthralling. Alluring. Beguiling. Seductive.
If for just one day we could smell as a dog does, in what ways would that day differ from others? And how might we be changed afterward? Could we go on the next day with our lives as before, ignoring all that our senses miss? Or would we then dare to look at our world from an entirely different perspective?
Imagine, for a moment, walking into a large gathering at a friend’s house, hotel ballroom, or perhaps a restaurant and instantly, with just a sniff or two, knowing intimately more about the people around you. Who is nervous? Who’s afraid? Who is excited and happy to see you?
If we consider other beings beyond a dog’s perspective, how does it feel to surge through the waves and leap through air with the ease of a dolphin? What is it like to lope through the savannah, grasses billowing in our wake, one in a coalition of cheetahs, toward a nearby herd of grazing impala? Or to swiftly glide through the cool autumn air as silently as a great horned owl, having spotted through the blackness of night the stripe of a skunk in the forest below us?
How, then, may we step into the shoes of an animal? Simply put, as humans, we can’t. But, recognizing that we perceive a mere fraction of all that surrounds us, we can acknowledge our biased and limited viewpoint defined by our human condition. Though we never see the atoms that make up our own fingertips, we fundamentally know they exist and our lives are intrinsically based on them. With electron microscopes, we can even manage to peek at them, to see the matter that our bodies are made of. Likewise, with sound waves beyond our range of hearing, colors and details our eyes simply miss, and aromas we breathe into our lungs through our noses to which we are fully oblivious, we must turn beyond ourselves to grasp all that exists.
In the hurried pace of our daily routines, beyond our sensory limitations, all too often we filter out what our senses do reveal to us. At the end of the day as we drive down the freeway, in our haste to make it home, we and neglect to notice the ochre hues before us of sunset fading between the clouds. With windows closed to the snarl of traffic and radios tuned to the evening news, we miss a flock of geese above us honking as they pass overhead and the cool smell of the evening breeze blowing past us across the pavement.
Even when at last we make our way home—while our dogs wag merrily at our heels as if we’ve been away for weeks and our cats jump, snuggling into our laps, as we collapse upon the sofa—our thoughts often drag us right out of the moment, away from the comfort of being at home, the nuzzle of an adoring pet, the ease of familiar smells and sounds. Distracted by responsibilities and focused on our hopes and dreams, we neglect what is right within our reach. And in so doing, we miss the moment and all the rich experiences it offers us. Turning to animals as guides to other ways of being, we can expand our awareness to fresh, new perspectives of our world and ourselves.