What Does Kindness Smell Like?

It was getting late, and I was drifting off to sleep in my rented hammock under a palm thatched roof in a campground in Tayrona National Park in Colombia, when I felt something brush up against me. Suddenly on high alert, I took off my eye mask and ear plugs and looked around, expecting to find someone looming over me. But there was nobody there besides the other people asleep in the row of hammocks hanging bedside mine. I put the eye mask and earplugs back on. But a little while later, it happened again. Looked around. Nothing. Finally, I fell asleep for a while. I woke with a start when it happened a third time. I sat straight up in the hammock, and looked all around me, determined to figure out what was going on.

And there, beneath my hammock, a medium-sized, mostly white dog with markings like a beagle was curled up, fast asleep. He was lying on the bottom edge of my mosquito net, so whenever he moved, it shook my hammock a little. A few times he got up and nudged me. I went back to sleep, no longer concerned by his movements. He stayed all night.

I had seen this dog before, limping through the open-air restaurant in the oceanside campground. But I hadn’t interacted with him. As I lay in my hammock that night, I got to thinking. What made this dog choose me?

First I thought, maybe he sleeps in this spot every night, no matter who’s in the hammock. Or maybe he chooses a place to lie down at random. But I also wondered if maybe he intuited something about my pendulous sleeping form that made him feel safe. And what could that be?

Though I hadn’t met this dog before, there were a couple of other dogs hanging around in the restaurant area that evening. There was one older-looking hound mix with a white-speckled snout whom I beckoned over while I was waiting for my food to arrive. I gave him some nice neck scratches. It’s clear that these dogs all know each other, it’s something of a campground dog pack. Did my under-hammock buddy know about the scratches?

I like animals, and they like me back, and that’s something I like about myself. I’ve had dog owners tell me they’re surprised to see their dogs warming up to me because they usually don’t like anybody. (Similarly, occasionally strangers will monologue their life story to me, and then say something like, “Wow, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this… that was weird.”) I think that everybody can just sense that I’m trustworthy and mean them no harm. I’ve always assumed it was my demeanor. But what if there’s something else going on?

This dog in the Dominican Republic apparently hates everybody, but not me.

People can sometimes smell fear and stress. It’s something about the cortisol. The sweat we release in fear is different than the sweat we produce in exercise. Dogs can smell cancer and bed bugs and COVID. What if they can also smell emotions? I watched a YouTube video once that compared a dog’s sense of smell to our sense of sight. It’s their primary way of perceiving the world. But while humans can only see what is happening in the present, a dog is able to smell the past. They can sniff a tree and know who brushed up against it this morning.

Could the white dog smell not only his pack mate’s scent on me, but also smell how that dog had felt about me when I was petting him? Or could kindness itself have a scent? I’d like to think so.

The next night I was assigned to a different hammock in a different structure than the night before. I went to sleep wondering whether this whole train of thought was all egoistic imagining. But in the morning, the same dog was asleep on the edge of my mosquito net. And he brought a friend.

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That is a great story, I think you are correct about the dogs and their sensing your trustworthiness. People sense that about you as well.

id love to think from your scent they can sense your last interactions and feel comfortable in your presence

I love this so so much 🥹🥹 powerful story, delivered beautifully ❤️❤️