George the Cocker Spaniel was originally introduced in a previous post that told you all about the introverted Plott Hound, Zackie-O. George is typical of his breed, strongly attached to his family and perennially cheerful, forever wagging his stumpy little tail. This story gets more interesting when you consider that when I bring a dog to the vet, it is not the Plott Bear Hound who needs to wear a muzzle. For the last few weeks, I’ve been doing battle with a slow-moving ear problem, also typical of the breed. Cockers have huge, heavy ears with an abundance of hair growing around the ear canal. Because there is very little air flow under these flappers, Cocker ears are at constant risk for developing unhealthy blooms of bacteria, yeast or both. In the case of George, despite a recent vet visit for a wellness check and despite following the vet’s advice to clean his ears once a week, he developed an infection in his right ear.
The infection was a thing of pure evil, though George remained cheerful and did not seem overly bothered by it. I was not so cheerful. It is rare that some life event causes me to rethink my lazy, irreligious approach to life, but there it was — I needed a priest and fast. Based on the smell, this was an obvious case of demonic possession. Animals are said to be more sensitive to the unseen world, and if you believe the responses from the two cats in the house, George was besieged by a legion of devils. Like most dogs, Zackie-O is normally drawn to stinky things, yet even she gave me the baleful hound face when George sat too close to her. Fix this, please, Mama her eyes seemed to plead. When George buddied-up to my husband Rich on the couch, I again got the pleading eyes, but this time, they were also watering. “You seriously need to do something,” he muttered, trying not to inhale. I launched into an explanation that my superpower was fixing toilets, not digging out heinous gunk from Cocker Spaniel ears, but no one in our house was having it.
In the absence of a priest, I muzzled poor George and cleaned out the heinous gunk using the squirt bottle of ear cleanser the vet had provided, a whole lot of ear wipes and a bunch of Q-tips. That helped some, but there were dried bits of discharge caught in his ear hair and though I tried mightily to remove these with the ear cleanser and scissors (even uttering at one point “The power of Christ compels you!”), I got nowhere with them. These clumps were beyond me and they remained a potent reminder of and contributor to the horrible stench.
In the continued absence of a priest, the next best thing was the dog groomer at Petco. I took George for his regular appointment with the hope that after they worked their dark magic, I might return home with a sanctified and blessed Cocker Spaniel. To my everlasting horror, we were turned away and told to go to the vet.
With a priest still nowhere in sight, we were lucky to get a same-day appointment with the vet, who raised a delicate eyebrow when I told her what the groomer said. “Oh, did they now?” was all she said. George was again muzzled, his ear rinsed and squished and wiped. The dried clumps were removed with shears — according to the vet, the only way known to humankind to remove them. She might have used some holy water during the process, but I looked away for some of it, so I can’t say for sure. I was sent on my way with a small bottle of antibiotic and told to give George’s ear two drops twice a day.
George and I survived the ear fiasco because, after dealing with pets for many years, I have become increasingly resistant to disgusting things. Recognizing the utility of this trait, I have passed it on to Fia, the main character in Soul Search and Soul Scent. The poor woman regularly deals with all manner of unpleasant things in her role as servant to the Psychopomp and also in her day job, working for a company responsible for crime scene cleanup. If it disgusts you, Fia is likely inured to it. It is worth mentioning that the universality of the things that are likely to disgust us actually has a scientific basis.
According to an article by the BBC, all humans exhibit the same facial expression when demonstrating disgust — we screw up our noses and pull down the corners of our mouths. People also generally find the same sort of things to be disgusting and ‘yuck,’ the verbal expression for disgust, is a proto-word, similar in languages all over the world. The thought is that disgust is hardwired in our brains because it is crucial to our survival, helping us to avoid things that could cause disease. There is even a growing body of evidence that some phobic disgust responses are triggered because of the need to avoid poisonous animals. One news report cites that up to 16% of people “become viscerally upset after looking at images of clustered holes, according to the first-ever study on the condition known as trypophobia.” The hole pattern is thought to be significant because of the prevalence of such patterns on certain poisonous species, e.g. the king cobra, blue-ringed octopus, the box jellyfish, the Brazilian wandering spider and the deathstalker scorpion. (This one surprised me, since I apparently have a very mild form of trypophobia, having an aversion to honeycomb-like patterns with very specific distances between cells. [I won’t run if I see this, but I might make that particular face described above.] I thought this was just me. I had no idea others had similar aversions.)
But not all forms of disgust are genetically programmed. Take, for instance, food choices from around the world. The Washington Post points out that many societies happily feast on food sources that others would never consider, except under conditions of starvation. Obviously, some forms of disgust are culturally acquired.
My guess is that the aroma emerging from George’s ear would rank as a genetically programmed form of disgust, at least for those with no mutations in their olfactory receptors. (For those of you interested, this is known as epistasis, where unrelated genes can interact and one gene can mask the effect of another. Yay, science.) Most people would be programmed to avoid the possible disease-causing agents associated with Cocker Spaniel ear infections. Despite this dalliance with George’s nasty ear, as a card-carrying introvert, I am proud to say that I have some protection from infectious disease. The introvert predilection for alone time unwittingly removes us from many situations where disease can be spread. Yay, introversion.
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No Cocker Spaniels were harmed in the making of this post.
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