To paraphrase Shakespeare, dogs smell our heart on our sleeve. That is why a year ago last night, when faced with the prospect of losing our beloved Sadie Dog, I left behind my sweater.
I recounted this emotional experience in "2 Rattlesnakes, 1 Pit Bull and a Miracle!' published last fall in The American Dog magazine:
As we stood in front of a bloated creature that no longer resembled Sadie, a veterinarian said, “We’re running out of options.” She was hooked up to machines and vials. An alarm sounded indicating that her heart rate had surpassed 200 beats per minute. Her head was the size of a watermelon, and the swelling had spread to her abdomen. An awful smell and black fluids spewed from her mouth. The vet did not think Sadie would last the night. Still, we authorized more antivenin and a blood transfusion.
We wept and stroked her ears, the only parts of her not swollen. Sadie started to sniff my hand. I pulled off my sweater and placed it in front of Sadie’s nose as we said goodbye.
The next morning’s report read that the vet had recommended euthanasia and that Sadie had then sat up and vocalized. The report went on to state that, later, when the time had come to transfer her to another hospital, Sadie had “walked to the van.” No one could believe the transformation that had occurred.
Experts say the simple act of leaving behind a piece of clothing can provide comfort to a dog in your absence.
Your dog knows your scent and has it filed in his memory, along with the smells of all the other people he's been introduced to. Some people your dog will remember with affection, others with fear and loathing -- and his "scent memory" will be triggered every time he meets them. The one smell dogs value most is the smell of their owners. "It's a familiar smell that conveys comfort and safety," says San Francisco-based trainer Tory Weiser.
I truly believe that my sweater, which contained my scent, gave our dog hope. Modern veterinary medicine carries the body to a more stable, healthier state. But I also attribute Sadie's miraculous turnaround to a higher power. I carried my emotions on my sleeve when I visited that night. But I also carried hope. Sadie could smell that. And she knew she was loved. That, in my mind, carried her beyond what looked like certain death.