Mishu and I visit a nursing home, and he tugs me toward the bed of an elderly woman. He sidles up to her and gently rests his chin near her frail hand. She sizes up his wolf-cub face and then smiles tenderly at him. She palms his fluffy head a few times. She looks up at me with cloudy blue eyes.

“Thank you for bringing your dog,” she croaks in a near whisper.

Mishu judges smells differently than humans

“It’s no big deal. You know, he’s been bugging me about it for years, but where we’re from in Hawaii there was never an opportunity like this for him.”  I wasn’t sure if she heard me because her gaze went blank.

“Have you always loved animals?” I lean in a little closer and ask her.

“Huh? What’s that you say?” she tilts forward enough that her green blanket slips down to her waist. I catch a whiff of her breath.

Her smell is metallic, like a just-opened can of peas. But it’s not the peas that I smell; it’s the aluminum mixed with bisphenol-A coating. Breathing her in leaves a bitter sharpness on my tongue like I’m licking the lid. I swallow hard and thumb my pocket for a lemon cough drop. It’s empty. I think about the Ricola bag that I left sitting on the front passenger seat of the car.

Mishu lets out a deep sigh. Her palm finds it way to his head again. She pats him in time to an inaudible rhythm.

“Have you always loved animals?” I ask again a little more slowly.

“Oh, yes. I used to have dogs and cats…and birds, too. We always had pets around. You know for the children. But I was the one who took care of them,” she says, her cloudy eyes shining under a light sprinkle.

I have a hard time keeping eye contact. I’m afraid she’ll see my revulsion at her breath and feel judged.

Mishu nudges in a little closer to her.

“You’re such a nice dog,” she coos. Mishu sighs again and closes his eyes. He looks content.

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  1. Love the column/blog.

    while reading your work, I keep thinking of the children’s book, Orville: A Dog’s Story by Haven Kimmel. The dog/hero can tell so much about everyone by their smell. the descriptions are really poetic, like yours.

    My MS has made my sense of smell more keen, but nothing compared to yours. must be a blessing and a burden (and make you an olfactory hero, like Orville).

    • I love Orville! He’s one of my heroes. Thank you for making the connection. And, yes, your insight is correct that sharpened olfaction is both blessing and curse. Just ask my husband, poor guy. I know details about everything he eats.

  2. Jill Lynch says:

    Wow…I just read the NYT’s article. I appreciate that you’ve shared about your liver and olfactory system. I want to come right over and sip jasmine green tea with you and discuss our sense of smell and the connection to liver overload and ability to detoxify. Thanks for the blog site. I look forward to learning more from the provided resources and delighting in your ability to express yourself so well with words and humor.
    Jill in Wisconsin

  3. What a beautiful dog Mishu is? Is he/she a husky or malamute?

    Enjoying the blog.

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  5. I think youve made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. Im really impressed that theres so much about this subject thats been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. Good one you, man! Really great stuff here.