Crumbs in My Pocket

by Mike Smith

July 2020

I am fascinated by dogs’ noses. In fact, I admire them. There is
no more perfect way to cap the end of the snout. The transition
from fur to nose is flawless, almost spiritual. Looking at a dog’s
nose, I am absorbed by its color and texture. I stare at its slits
and bumps and crevasses as if seeing answers to life’s essential
questions.

While I could dwell on physical appearance, it is the capabilities
of a dog’s nose that really draws me in. Estimates vary, but the
prevailing estimate is that a dog’s ability to smell is between
10,000 and 100,000 times greater than that of a human. Never
mind 100,000 times greater, I cannot get past the concept of
10,000 times greater. Ten thousand times greater! I can no
more comprehend the scale of this difference than I can
comprehend the scale of the Milky Way galaxy. What I can
understand is that for a dog, the complexity and subtlety, the
richness and range, the whole experience of scent, exists in a
dimension that is beyond my perception. I have read that dogs
can smell emotions and health, that they can use scent to detect
the passage of time, that their noses can even detect phenomena
that has no scent. Where humans might discern a scent, dogs
can detect a whole story. Truly a dog’s nose is one of the
wonders of the world.

Then there are the biological marvels. The way a fold of tissue
inside the nose splits the airflow into a stream dedicated to
breathing and a stream dedicated to smelling. The way the
nose’s side slits allow the dog to breathe in and out at the same
time. The labyrinth of thin turbinate bones that contain up to
300 million olfactory receptors. The way dogs can smell
separately with each nostril to form a three dimensional picture
that enables them to identify the exact location of a scent. The
way the philtrum carries moisture from the mouth to the
rhinarium. The independent vomeronasal organ. The ability to
differentiate up to 100,000 different smells. OMG!

Despite all of this complexity, a dog’s nose is fearless. It calmly
assesses scents that would cause me to cower. It always leads
the way, parting the air like the bow of a ship cutting through
water. It is always working, taking things in, perceiving the
world. And when a dog, any dog, of its own volition, touches
me with its nose, with its magnificent organ of a nose, I feel as
though I have received a benediction from on high. The colder,
the wetter, the better.