Tail End: Arlo And His Nose


It was a beautiful afternoon. My kids were getting along, I was gardening and Arlo, my dog, was patrolling the idyllic scene. Everything was quiet, which should have warned me that something would go wrong.

It did. Something in the house smelled really bad – a smokyburning- rubber-or-electrical-fire kind of bad. At least that’s how I explained it to the man who answered the fire department telephone.

“I’ll send someone right over, ma’am.” In the face of a potential house fire, I still felt the sting of being “ma’amed.” Could I really sound that old?

A police officer arrived. He too noticed the smell, but could neither describe nor pinpoint it. My son asked if the sirens in the distance were coming to our house.

“Of course not,” I assured him.

But the police officer begged to differ: “The department’s on its way, ma’am.” (Ugh…ma’amed again.)

“You mean the whole department?” said my daughter with teenage mortification. “Mom, I cannot believe you did that!”

I was also a little nervous about the imminent onslaught of the town’s bravest, and with good reason. As the siren got closer, it became clear that more than just one guy would be paying us a visit. Within moments, two huge fire trucks screamed to a halt at my driveway.

The first wave of firefighters entered the house donning thermal imaging cameras, oxygen tanks and walkie-talkies. The next team stood poised on the lawn, ready to back them up.

The fire chief asked some humiliating questions: “Where’s the fuse box?” and “On what side of the basement is the furnace?” I thought hard and realized that my inability to answer is exactly why I rent.

The men couldn’t find anything that would explain the fumes, so they began trickling out to investigate the exterior. More questions for me: “Ma’am, did you mow the lawn today?” Then the chief looked at the overgrown meadow that was my yard and graciously moved on to the next question, something about where they fill my oil tank (oh, I use oil heat – good to know).

Arlo caught the attention of one of the firefighters, who bent down to say hi. “Whoa!” he said. “Anyone catch a whiff of this dog?” We all took turns doing so, while Arlo wagged his body with delight. He smelled disgusting – kind of a smoky-burningrubber- or-electrical-fire kind of odor. Uh oh. The firefighters asked where Arlo had been that day, and I directed them toward a shed containing building materials.

The firefighters took a few whiffs of the area. The consensus was that Arlo must have been rooting around after a rodent and rubbed up against an odiferous container. The news spread among the ranks: “No fire – it’s just the dog.”

It wasn’t a complete waste of time, because one of the firefighters noticed I needed new batteries in the smoke detectors. “Not that your nose is unreliable, ma’am.”

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