My Secret Weapon for Protecting My Dachshund’s Back

Rose Mary is an Air Force veteran and an Occupational Therapist. She has been a life-long dog parent.

An Ounce of Prevention and Then Some

I adopted my dachshund, Sebastian, in the spring of 2007. Since doxies are susceptible to back issues, I had instituted certain preventative precautions from the time I got him. I had doggie stairs for my bed. My sister built gradual-rise stairs for the couch and the porch.

Unfortunately, Sebastian had to have back surgery in December 2009. After surgery, I was super vigilant. The problem with stairs is that, like many dogs, he would go up the stairs to get on the bed, then jump off. So the stairs were banished, and he has not been allowed on the sofa or bed since. We had a ramp sturdy enough for all of us built for the porch. We broke him from “meer-catting” (getting up on his haunches to beg).

Picking Up My Doxie

I was even more careful than before of how I picked him up. I would scoop up his bottom and hind legs from behind with my right hand, and place my left hand on his lower chest. I would keep his head higher than his body and bring him in close to my chest. At some point in time, he started getting spooked when I went to put him down and I was afraid he would try to jump. So I stopped picking him up.

Acupuncture and a Bright Idea

Sebastian started exhibiting prominent signs that his back was bothering him again in early 2012. We started taking him for weekly acupuncture, and he was responding well. Unfortunately, every time we tried to wean him from once a week to once every two weeks, he would backslide. At one point he lost movement in his hind legs just as he did before his surgery. Someone in our household came up with the idea to use a large serving tray that my sister had brought with her when she moved in. It was amazing that even with a paralyzed caboose, he dragged himself onto that tray!

Trays for Doxies

We were able to avoid a second surgery through acupuncture. Sebastian still goes for treatments; he goes every three weeks now. He can walk just fine, but he has the classic waddle for a dog that has back issues. I haven’t picked him up in years. When we go to the vet for his acupuncture, we carry him on the tray. I put it in the garage, flush with the doorway. He walks up and gets on, then into the car on his tray. He gets carried into the treatment room on the tray and stays there for his treatment. We head back to the car, then when we get home, I put him down at the garage door and into the house he goes.

I think even if he didn’t get spooked, picking up and lifting him would be a potential strain on his back every time. Assuming that I would put him down and walk him into the vet’s building on a leash, I am saving six lifts per vet visit—into and out of the car, and on and off the exam table. I see other doxies brought in for treatment. Many of them are being held by their parent with just one arm. They pick them up so that the doxie’s front legs are draped over the parent’s forearm. The back legs are just hanging. It makes me cringe.

So, this is my effort to launch a “Trays for Doxies” campaign.

© 2018 rmcrayne

How Coffee Became My Secret Weapon Against Pain

Unless you’re topping it off with a spoonful of LSD, coffee isn’t what you’d traditionally call wild.

But my response was. Just a sip and I always ended up with heart palpitations and anxiety. Which you’d think would be a turn-off. But “wild” is also how I’d describe my irrepressible lust for the stuff, despite how it made me feel.

Walking through the coffee aisle at my local health food store, I practically got whiplash. The aroma was so… intoxicating.

Maybe I’ll just get some of the Guatemalan French roast, I thought as I grabbed a bag — just to sniff, of course. And one day, it occurred to me that if my body’s desire for coffee was so strong that my brain had manufactured a “just to sniff” rationale in order to increase my chances of consuming it, then maybe I should actually consume it.

The next day was my first full cup of joe — at the ripe age of 28.

I tasted it, anxious about the upcoming panic attack. But there was only… peace. In thirty seconds, my freak-out was replaced with relaxation. Tension melted away and a sort of golden glow seemed to emanate from every cell in my body. I felt good. Which, after years of having chronic neck and shoulder pain that even 2-hour Swedish massages couldn’t touch (sorry, Helga), was kind of amazing.

There’s plenty of scientific research on the link between caffeine and pain management. But going through study after study, there didn’t seem to be any that studied coffee and pain management. Plenty studied caffeine, but they talked about caffeine (the drug) as an adjunct to analgesics like aspirin or ibuprofen. None studied caffeine’s solo analgesic effect.

According to Robert Schmerling, M.D., caffeine on its own (not coffee) has indeed been observed to reduce pain — admittedly, so far, only in sleep-deprived mice. No study yet exists on human pain and coffee by itself.

But the lack of literature didn’t stop my miracle pain cure from, at the risk of redundancy, being a miracle friggin’ pain cure.

I experimented with caffeine the drug, and caffeine in other types of foods, like tea, but none had any effect that came close to what coffee does for me.

My first cup’s analgesic effect lasted a full 8 hours and was more powerful than any CBD oil (or, let’s be honest, weed brownie) I’d ever tried. It also had none of the side effects that I had been expecting that morning, due to the gobs of fat that slowed down the caffeine’s absorption, thus preventing that kick of adrenaline and the dreaded rush of anxiety.

So, one cup was all it took for me to join the rest of the adult world in a fanatical-bordering-on-obsessive love for coffee. And that was before I even discovered the ridiculous exercise benefits of my favorite substance.

I felt so damn perky after my first taste of adulthood — read: coffee — that I went for a little victory stroll around my neighborhood.

Walking was about all I’d been doing at that point (with the occasional set of calisthenics), because almost any physical activity made me spontaneously karate-chop my neck for pain relief.

But that day, I came across a tree branch hanging over the sidewalk and said to myself LET’S DO IT! I guess I’d seen that Shia LaBeouf video one too many times — I knocked out 20 pull-ups, and proceeded with push-ups, pull-ups, and jump squats every 10 minutes for the rest of the day like I was either some kind of fitness guru, on steroids, or an amped-up combination of both.

This was the first time in years that I’d actually wanted to exercise. And yeah, not being in pain was part of it, but it was an energy thing too: I’d always gotten exhausted from even brief spurts of exercise, pre-coffee. Now, with my magic beans, I felt indefatigable.

As of writing this I’ve become a full-on fitness lover, and I seriously credit my discovery of coffee as the turning point. Now I can understand why Paul Bergmann wrote this song.

So, what’s up with coffee, really: Is it a superfood? Performance-enhancing drug? The Meaning of Life?

I can imagine that my first week on coffee was similar to what people experience on their honeymoons. Everything was gold-tinged I had insane energy, and was having sex ten times a d— no, actually I’ve been single for five years…

Life with coffee wayyy better.

I honestly cried with gratitude at the end of my first month when I realized that my new quality of life was a permanent thing.

Since conventional scientists couldn’t explain exactly whyTF I was weeping with gratitude, precisely, I had to do my own research. This led me to Dr. Ray Peat — PhD physiologist and underground health guru, whose followers will often be seen gobbling up aspirin and, of course, quaffing coffee.

“Our scientific community talks about coffee like it’s a drug,” Peat said, “when actually it’s an adaptogenic nutrient. The caffeine in coffee mimics anti-stress hormones like progresterone, scavenges free radicals, and increases the efficiency of fuel consumption in the body.” This explains why the NBA’s most freakishly energetic player ever was famous for his pre-game coffee ritual.

Peat also mentioned that the negative effects of java, like elevated blood pressure, are typically seen outside of “normal use” — referring to studies where high doses of caffeine are administered on an empty stomach.

“Adequate nutrition is essential,” he says, “because coffee increases the consumption of glucose in the bloodstream. So, if you’re not drinking it with carbohydrates or fat — either in the form of a meal or as cream and sugar— that’s when you start feeling shaky.”

Now, I’ll not pretend that my life post-coffee (aka adulthood) has been without its difficulties.

Aside from being forced into plasma donation to finance my new coffee habit (jo-king) there were times when I had to pump the breaks on my four-espresso-shots-by-4 p.m. routine because I got a super jittery/shitty feeling, which is the opposite of why I got hooked in the first place. But when I refocused on having “adequate nutrition,” per Dr. Peat — drinking coffee after meals, or with plenty of fat or sugar — my adrenal shakes disappeared, and I felt nothing but relaxed bliss.

In fact, toward the end of writing this article, my neck started doing that effed up thing where I feel like visiting my local guillotine for swift relief. So, I did self-massage and deep breathing… nothing. Then I remembered that I was writing an article about how coffee is supposedly this powerful pain reliever and at 9 p.m., just after dinner, I downed a piping hot cuppa black. Instant relief.

Coffee is the only thing that consistently works for me.

If you’re looking to manage pain or increase your overall health and fitness, coffee may be worth a try. Just make sure you’re purchasing organic varieties — way less mold and toxins — and are pairing that ebony nectar with plenty of fat/sugar, or just a good ole fashioned meal. Oh, and I’ve noticed that I have to drink about 15 percent more water throughout the day when I’m imbibing the black stuff.

And if you’re already hooked on coffee — which is to say, if you’re already a normal adult functioning in society — now you have another reason to binge with me!

Seriously, you have a greenlight for up to eight cups.

Is There A Way to Seal Wallpaper or Prevent Damage Due to Moisture?

Yes! There’s a secret weapon to use on wallpaper in areas of high moisture that my wallpaperer clued me into – it’s called Decorators Varnish (available ) – he swears by it and after seeing it in action, now I do too!

My wallpaperer also uses it on wallpapered light switches in rooms all over the house because it keeps them from getting dirty over time – smart! No matter what you use it on, just be sure to test it on a wallpaper sample before applying it to your wallpaper – it’s always good practice to play it safe and be 100% sure you’re happy with the product before applying it to a whole room.

13 Secrets of Pet Groomers

Pet grooming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s growing each year. More and more pet owners have come to rely on groomers, who—in addition to top-notch trimming and clipping skills—must know animal anatomy, calming techniques, and the best way of avoiding potentially dangerous scratches and bites. We spoke to several to get the inside scoop.


Whether it’s an aggressive dog who bites or a nervous cat who scratches, groomers must be constantly aware of potential threats.

“Even the sweetest and most docile cat has the potential to scratch or bite,” says Jared Gorton, who owns Rhode Island Cat Grooming with his wife, Mandi. Most groomers are able to keep themselves and their animal clients safe by wearing gloves and using muzzles when necessary, but some groomers also protect themselves by turning away animals with a history of aggressive behavior.


While some pet groomers focus exclusively on cats, most avoid them. There’s one big reason: In general, cats are more unpredictable, and many groomers don’t want to risk a scratch or bite.

According to Mandi Gorton, that’s why most groomers start out working with dogs only. “There are many feline-exclusive groomers who started as dog-exclusive groomers I was one of them. I thought ‘cats groom themselves’ and didn’t want to be one of those groomers who had a career-ending bite by a cat,” she explains. “Some [groomers] will shave cats or offer to brush cats, but don’t understand the basics of cat behavior, breeds, or grooming. They see it more as a necessary evil than a field to thrive in.”

Mel Brink, the owner of Club Meow, a cat boarding and grooming facility in Iowa, explains that in his region, many grooming shops won’t take cats at all. “And the ones that do [groom cats] only take easy cats and are primarily dog-oriented,” she says. “There are a dozen Petsmart and Petco stores here, and only one takes cat clients!”


Barking dogs, running water, and blow dryers can make pet grooming shops noisy places to work. But keeping the volume as quiet as possible is integral to making sure the animals feel safe. “Animals feed off the energy of others and easily go into flight or fight mode,” Brink says. “I keep my shop very quiet and peaceful. I diffuse essential oils and keep my own energy low.” Some cat owners also prefer to patronize feline-exclusive groomers because the smells and sounds of dogs can stress out their cats.


While most dogs jump eagerly into the water to swim, cats are more timid, and there’s a common belief that cats have a phobia of water. But the pet groomers we spoke to insist that’s just not true. “Most cats are not afraid of water like so many people believe,” Brink says. “They are actually afraid of loud noises, so if you keep your spray nozzle low, especially at first, most cats tolerate water with no issue.”

According to Mandi Gorton, cats are afraid of drowning, rather than water per se. “Cats drink water every day, lots of cats even play with water or follow people into the shower. Getting a cat to trust you enough to bathe in it is a cat groomer's super power,” she notes.

And there’s another pro trick when it comes to pets and water: Many dogs dislike when soap and water get in their eyes and ears, so good groomers are careful to wash an animal’s face last and rinse it first. This method ensures that soap and water have the least time to irritate an animal’s sensitive eyes.


Pet groomers are often called dog and cat whisperers for good reason. Their ability to quickly connect emotionally with a new animal, establish control, and convince the animal to trust them takes a great deal of skill, knowledge, and experience. Like horses, cats and dogs read people and pick up on body language cues. A calm, confident groomer will encourage pets that they’re not in any danger. “The first step is to begin with that feeling that the cat can trust you not to harm him in any way. After that, you have to be compassionate and understanding,” Jared Gorton says. “Most cats are fairly compliant when treated with kindness, mutual respect, and a ‘matter of fact’ attitude,” Mandi Gorton adds.


As Massachusetts pet groomers Kathy and Missi Salzberg explain, many people enter the profession because they prefer to spend time with animals rather than people. But although pet groomers have a rapport with animals, they must also be able to converse and connect with their owners. “People skills are a necessity,” the Salzbergs write. Besides having customer service capabilities, successful pet groomers must effectively communicate with pet owners about what type of hair cut they want and clearly instruct pet owners how to take care of their pet between grooming sessions.


While groomers may reward good behavior with dog treats or distract insecure cats with catnip, their number one secret weapon is a simple comb. As animal groomer Margaret Campbell tells Angie’s List, most brushes only reach the top of an animal’s coat, but combs get further down to the skin, where tangles and mats can hide. Besides bathing an animal and applying a conditioner, groomers comb the animal’s hair from head to toe, gently working out any tangles. That’s crucial, because if fur gets too matted, the animal may have to be shaved or buzzed in order to safely remove the knots—a process that can be painful.


Much like hairdressers, pet groomers work to fulfill their client’s wishes and create a cut that is aesthetically pleasing. Grooming styles vary based on breed and range, from a puppy cut to a lion cut. But pet owners often don’t have the vocabulary to describe exactly what kind of style they want for their pets. “I laugh at times to myself when a client tries to describe what they want done,” Brink says. “I recently had a lady call and ask for a ‘backsplash.’ I was perplexed until I realized she meant a sanitary trim around the bum. We both had to giggle about that and I may just use her terminology!”


Depending on the state and city in which they work, some pet groomers may need to be licensed and certified. Organizations such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America and the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists teach groomers about everything from clipping styles and cutting nails to anatomy and behavior. According to Certified Feline Master Groomer Lynn Paolillo, who works as an instructor and certifier for the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, cat groomers who want to become certified learn about feline temperaments, how to recognize breeds, correct color terminology, handling techniques, and common health concerns and symptoms. “This information combines to create a cat groomer who is knowledgeable, confident, and proficient with cats of varying temperaments and needs,” she says.

Groomers who certify with the National Cat Groomers Institute of America must also pass four written exams and five practical exams, proving that they have mastered clipper skills, bathing and drying, and safety. “I think most people would be surprised to know how creative cat groomers need to be. Working with cats is primarily about problem-solving, so the groomer must be able to think quickly on their feet in order to keep both cat and groomer safe and as low-stress as possible,” Paolillo says.


Working as a pet groomer can be extremely physically demanding. “Groomers are prone to back problems from lifting heavy dogs and carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motion of scissoring, brushing, and hand stripping,” the Salzbergs write. “A groomer’s legs can suffer from standing all day over a long period of time. Circulation problems, varicose veins, overstressed tendons and ligaments—these are common ailments in this profession.” To counteract the physical demands of their job, pet groomers may learn to groom while sitting on a stool and/or hire assistants to help with lifting heavier dogs. For many, staying physically fit is also a priority.


It’s essential to take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups, but groomers also use their knowledge of animal anatomy to observe your pet’s health. Besides looking out for ticks, fleas, and ringworm, they can often spot infections and life-threatening lumps. One groomer who tried to empty a cocker spaniel’s anal sacs (small pockets used for scent communication) noticed that the dog was unusually distressed, so the groomer told the owner to take the dog to the vet. The dog was diagnosed with anal sac carcinoma, a malignant cancer that disproportionately affects cocker spaniels. Because the cancer was caught and removed early, the cocker spaniel survived her illness, all thanks to an observant and knowledgeable pet groomer.


Because pet groomers love animals, it can be particularly difficult to see cats and dogs in bad shape. Whether a cat is severely matted or a dog has sores on his skin, animals in distress are a troubling reality of the job. Paolillo laments that many cat owners hold common misconceptions about grooming, such as that cats hate water, they groom themselves, and they shouldn’t be bathed. “[Grooming] doesn’t have to be stressful, and cats definitely benefit from regular bath and grooming appointments. However, when a cat has never been groomed or bathed, and then it becomes severely matted at an elderly age, the groom becomes not only difficult but dangerous,” she says. “It can be frustrating to be working against many myths involving cat grooming.”

Jared Gorton echoes Paolillo's point, explaining that matting is entirely preventable. “Matting hurts, plain and simple. While we don’t have magic wands to just make the mats disappear, we have tools and skills to get rid of them,” he says. “After that, it's about educating the owner because matting is entirely preventable. Once that education has been given and received, there are no excuses for it to happen again.”


Pet groomers love making a living by caring for animals, and receiving affection and gratitude from their animal clients gives them true joy. “The best thing about being a cat groomer is when the cats realize how much we are helping and how appreciative they are,” Paolillo says. “Getting head butts, purrs, and kisses from our kitty clients is the best part of the job!" Some pet groomers even form bonds with more difficult, less appreciative animals and mourn their passing. “I had a cat who was Satan to groom, just a hissing, spitting, biting, baiting devil. But when he passed away his mom called me and we both cried hysterically,” Mandi Gorton admits. “When cat owners share their furry treasures with you there is a bond that is deep and profound.”

The Kora Xenolith Is My Secret Weapon Against the Cold

Is there such a thing as a midlayer that’s as warm as a puffy but breathable enough to keep you comfortable even in heated indoor environments or during high-exertion activities? Until I started wearing the Kora Xenolith sweater ($250), I’d have told you no. But now I barely take the thing off.

With a body-fabric mix of 30 percent yak wool and 70 percent merino fibers, and lined with Polartec Alpha insulation, the Xenolith is made from three different materials, each known for warmth and breathability.

Outdoorsy folks will already be familiar with merino wool, but you may not know exactly what makes it so comfortable: A wool fiber is scaly and hollow. Water vapor expelled by the wearer’s body can fit between those scales and is absorbed by the hollow interior. There, a chemical process breaks the bond between water’s hydrogen and oxygen molecules, forming heat. In cold weather, the heat produced by this process, along with the wearer’s body heat, is trapped in pockets created by the natural chaos of wool’s kinks and bends. In warm weather, wool draws moisture away from your body and facilitates evaporation by spreading that moisture out across a larger surface area. The cool air produced by that evaporation is then trapped in the fabric. Wool keeps you dry and stays warm when it’s cold out, and, accordingly, keeps you cool when it’s hot out. Merino wool is made from a variety of sheep known for its fine, soft fibers. The fibers work just like normal wool but are less itchy next to your skin.

Yak wool is even finer and softer than merino (if rarer and more expensive as a result), and Kora has conducted its own lab tests that suggest the material to be 40 percent warmer, 66 percent more breathable, and 17 percent better at moving water away from your skin than merino. The company purchases its yak wool directly from producers in Tibet.

The third component of the Xenolith, Polartec Alpha, was developed for Special Forces soldiers deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan in the early 2000s. Designed as a more breathable alternative to high-loft polyester fleece, it’s made from a mesh chassis that holds together a loose collection of polyester fibers. In static conditions, those lofted fibers trap a lot of air, providing a lot of insulation. Get moving, and the barely there fibers present virtually no obstacle to the air pressure generated by your increasing temperature. Alpha also wicks moisture and spreads it out for quicker drying times.

Alone, a midlayer made from any single one of these fabrics will add a surprising amount of warmth and remain comfortable across a wide range of temperatures and activities. Together, they create a sweater capable of providing outstanding insulation that stays comfortable when things heat up.

A xenolith, which the sweater is named after, is a rock that forms within another rock—a rock sandwich, if you will. Kora’s Xenolith is made from a thin outer layer of tightly woven 30 percent yak wool and 70 percent merino wool. Beneath this is a layer of Alpha that covers your entire torso, your shoulders, and the outer side of your upper arms but doesn’t cover your armpits, your inner upper arms, or your forearms. On in the inside, there’s another layer of that wool around your arms and the front of your torso but not your back.

The end result is practical and versatile on its own, but something that will help you get more out of your other layers, too. Because the tightly woven wool fabric serves as a rudimentary shell, blocking some wind, the doubled-up front of the sweater keeps you cozy while cycling or skiing without preventing your back from losing heat. This arrangement also keeps your back dry while wearing a pack. Thin and slim fitting, it’s easy to wear under additional pieces and perfect under a hard shell, reducing bulk and making the most of the limited air permeability offered by waterproof jackets by providing no other barrier to breathability.

While bird hunting last month in South Dakota, conditions were positively dreadful. Single-digit temperatures combined with high winds and light precipitation to create bone-chillingly damp weather that instantly stung any exposed skin with blown ice particles. Conditions were so bad that I lost feeling in one of my fingers, which has yet to recover. But layered over a wool base layer and beneath a lightweight puffy and hard shell, the Xenolith enabled me to hike around all day in otherwise complete comfort.

One night in the remote backcountry of southwest Montana last fall, just outside Yellowstone National Park, temperatures plummeted unexpectedly into what also felt like the single digits. I’d only packed a 20-degree sleeping bag but was able to sleep soundly in it wearing nothing but my base layers and this sweater.

Over the holidays, while my wife and I were hiking around our cabin in northern Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, temperatures ranged from the low teens to the mid-forties. For the entire trip, all I wore were base layers, this sweater, and a hard shell.

Right now I’m sitting in front of the fireplace at home in Bozeman, Montana, wearing the Xenolith over a thin merino T-shirt. The thermostat tells me it’s 69 degrees in my living room, and I’m as comfortable now as I will be when I take the dogs for a walk after I wrap up this article. It’s 20 degrees outside today, and all I’ll need to do is put on shoes.

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