Smell is the sense that has the deepest and least conscious connection to memory, followed by taste. When we smell the perfume that our grandmother wore, we find ourselves thinking about her without really knowing why. For some reason, when the memory comes about below our consciousness, it has a tendency to drag a lot of emotions along with it, whether happy, angry, sad, or something in between.
Dogs have a sense of smell many times more powerful than that of humans. This led me to wonder if they have the same ability to recall emotions and even communicate by scent.
Our dog Patsy has specific spots in the neighborhood where she will sniff and pee with great predictability. She also has a schedule worked out, where she gets very stubborn about which walk we need to take that day in order for her to check her pee-mail.
My husband and I joke about it, because we both have noticed it. “She’s plotting the canine revolution with her co-conspirators.”
There is a type of grass that grows in just a few places in the neighborhood. When the grass matures, it sends up little helicopter-shaped stalks. For some reason, when little Patsy comes across that grass, she becomes obsessed. She sniffs and sniffs, grows excited, rubs her face in it, then tries to roll her entire body in it. Clearly, the grass means something to her.
I had a few theories. I thought maybe the grass has healing properties when rubbed on her skin, and our little Patsy is a shaman (or would that be shadog?)
Today, I had a deeper theory that probably attaches way too many human emotions to a canine, but it is the one I like best.
We got Patsy at the pound. When they picked her up on the street, she weighed so little that they actually told us she was a chihuahua. She is a beagle or something much heavier. She starved on the streets of Lincoln Heights for a few months, and it clearly traumatized her in lots of ways. She is extremely territorial with her food. She won’t go near water. She is obsessed with food at every waking hour. She even wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night to demand a treat – which she never gets because that is one behavior I dare not reinforce.
She is very happy with her family of people. She loves to be close to us. I am sure she lives a good life. But we cannot remove the traumatic stress from her memory. She is permanently affected by the months of starvation and street life.
So here’s my theory. I think that her mother used to nurse her in a field of that helicopter grass. It grows everywhere in that part of town. Smelling the grass brings her back to a time before she experienced want, pain, and constant hunger. It was a time when she felt safe, satisfied, and loved – without a memory of something terrible weighing on her.
It’s a pretty far-fetched theory, but I prefer it to other explanations.
When my mother died, I inherited a box of her towels and bed-linens. When I opened the box, I smelled her. It brought back many pleasant memories of her. So I’d like to think that Patsy has the same trigger for sense memory. I didn’t bother going to Google to find out the real reason why dogs roll in grass. I prefer my explanation, so I will stick with it.