Ask ELi: What’s That Smell?

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Monday, September 9, 2019, 7:18 pm
Alice Dreger

ELi’s reporters are always happy to sniff things out for readers, and today we got to take that literally. A reader wrote in this:

"I enjoy your ‘Ask ELi’ investigations. This is minor and kind of gross but I figure I'll try anyway. At the main entrance to the Hannah [Community] Center, there is always an odor which to me seems like cat urine. I can't imagine stray cats go there for their bathroom business so maybe it's some type of plant or the wood chips, but I'm curious. It has been that way for several years and is noticeable mostly in the warmer months. Thanks!”

We put our reader’s question to the City staff by email, and got a prompt reply from Cathy DeShambo, Environmental Services Administrator:

“I have not detected this odor in my many trips in, out and around Hannah. However, Boxwood shrubs, such as the ones lining the front of the Hannah building, are known for having foliage that, in hotter weather, emits a scent that closely resembles cat urine. I highly suspect that the Boxwoods are responsible.”

After receiving this reply, I headed over to Hannah Community Center to confirm it as the likely answer.

While I was sniffing a boxwood bush just outside the front door, a patron of Hannah stopped and asked me what I was doing. I explained that I am a reporter for East Lansing Info and that I was fact-checking this question from our reader and the reply from the City staff.

The man then joined me in smelling the bush. (ELi is nothing if not a community project.) He soon agreed that the bushes smelled not of box, nor of wood, but of cat urine.

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