Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Dogs of Smell & Tell: An Interview with Stella the Terrier

The many moods of Stella the terrier as she sniffs
a variety of fragrance blotters on March 4, 2020

Stella isn't a typical Smell & Tell fan. She walks on all fours, has a superior sense of smell, and is quite curious when encountering novel scents. Stella has an interesting habit. She likes to smell fragrance blotters her owner brings home from Smell & Tell. Her reactions vary, but they’re always colorful. 

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by our dog interpreter. One of our readers wants to know how you manage bad smells?

It depends. What smells unpleasant to a human nose tells a slightly different story to a dog nose. Going on a smelling jag in the park is like reading a good book. You don't want to stop until you've figured out a smell, and all the smells underneath that smell, so you know the whole story. Somewhere along the way you come across something unusual or threatening, like the smell of fear. Then you have to figure out where it came from, and if you should stay, run away, or stand your ground and bark your face off.

       Stella relates to the conundrum in "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash

Have you ever followed a scent trail straight into trouble?

Following a scent trail doesn't work if you latch onto a skunk. Young dogs learn this early on, others get a case of amnesia the second time around and walk straight into skunk spray, whining and crying like an amnesiac when it's happened before. A single skunking was enough for me. Getting cleaned up afterwards isn't glamorous. The combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn dish detergent makes me smell like a demented lemon. Some of the skunk odor lingers, which doesn’t go over well with my friends.

Are there smells that you find overwhelming?

Things that make me feel like I can't breathe really get to me. The acrid odor of vinegar humans use to make pickles, the smell of bleach when someone in the house is in cleaning zealot mode, things like that. I loathe smoke. Smoke from a fireplace can be tough on my lungs. You won't find me close enough to get my fur in a singe, that's for sure. It's bad enough that I smell wood smoke on my fur the next day. Smelling like a piece of bacon isn’t the same as eating bacon. It's confusing.

Do you have a favorite smell?

That depends. I really enjoy smells when I have a chance to investigate them in the yard. I like playing by myself because I can chase a squirrel up a tree without interference from other dogs, and smell whatever I like. Walking on a leash can be fun as far as sniffing things, but it's subject to human whims like stopping and chatting with neighbors, or being forced to meet other people's dogs. 

To answer your question, I love the smell of being with other dogs in the dog park. You get to smell your friends, which is a combination of their unique dog smell, and smells from where they've been and who they've been with. On the whole, it's the smell of kin. Why humans don't smell each other more often is beyond me. They should take up reading books about Dr. Richard Feynman and his nose-forward ways. 

Stella the Jack Parsons terrier as a pup. She'll be 13 
on March 23, 2024. Image courtesy of Kirsten Segal.

Why do you like sniffing fragrance blotters from Smell & Tell programs at AADL?

It's like smelling a human version of a dog park crossed with a forest, a garden, the elements, a scent lab, and a chef's kitchen with a hint of je ne sais quoi. Smelling fragrance blotters from Smell & Tell is like smelling a world inside a world to infinity. I sniffed something interesting from the Brian Eno Smells program in 2020. I was captivated by a strange tuberose perfume called Nardo by Madini, and kept sniffing to figure it out. 

Then it happened. I saw my reflection in a window and didn’t recognize myself. I barked at the stranger in the glass, and was compelled to roll on the perfume blotter and pursue it. It took a few minutes before I snapped out of it. I adore and fear the smell of Nardo perfume because of this. I have a confession to make. Sometimes, when I want to understand a smell better, I lick the perfume blotter or smell through my mouth while baring my teeth. I can’t tell you why, but it works for me. I am a dog after all.

Notes & Curiosities:
Is there a logical explanation for Stella's reaction to Nardo perfume? An educated guess says that the presence of indole molecules may have something to do with it. Indole is present in mammalian feces. Its fecal-like qualities are noticeable at higher concentrations. Interestingly, indole smells like flowers at .01% (200ppm), and shapeshifts into fecal, mothball and horse-like odor qualities at .01%-1%. George S. Clark described this binary as "a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde nature" in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. Indole signals insectivory and attracts pollinators, which is why it's vital to chemical communication in plants like jasmine and tuberose.

 "Indole presents a dual organoleptic profile, or, to state it another way, a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde nature.” Ah, mais oui. Serge Gainsbourg relates to the Jekyll-Hyde duality.

Nardo by Madini is no longer distributed in the U.S. by Talisman in Seattle, Washington. Fear not, perfume lovers. Madini perfume hasn't disappeared. Parfumerie Madini is located at 5, bd. Pasteur Tangier, Tangier-T├ętouan-Al Hoceima Morocco. “The perfumery is owned by Sidi Madini and is a family business that has been passed down through his family for more than 500 years," according to a listing in Fodor's Travel