Jeff, Cindy and Lauren

McKinney Falls State Park – Austin, Texas – March 13 to 28, 2024

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 we left Tickfaw State Park and drove about 235 miles to a Cracker Barrel in Beaumont, Texas for a one-night stay. We always enjoy these stops because we get a nice dinner and breakfast as well as a night’s stay to break up a long drive to our next campground.

Thursday, March 14th we left Cracker Barrel after a delicious breakfast and drove the remaining 235 miles to McKinney Falls State Park in Austin Texas. It’s been about 6 years since I was last in Austin, back when I was deployed there for response to Hurricane Harvey. I worked with some great people and I would get to visit with one of them in person during this stop.

Our site at McKinney Falls State Park was old asphalt and not very level, but we made it work. The site was a pull-thru with 50 amp power and potable water as well as a fairly large space for the picnic table and fire ring. Unfortunately, that large space was filled with high, unmowed grass. For us that means two things; (1) be extra careful and observant for snakes and (2) try not to let Bella walk in it so she doesn’t pick up ticks. Thankfully, a couple of days after our arrival, park maintenance came by to mow an unoccupied site next to ours. Cindy asked if they could at least mow around the fire ring and picnic table, but they graciously mowed the entire site.

Heavy storms started around 5 am Friday morning and continued until around 9 am. The forecast was for softball-sized hail, but we were happy to have that forecast be wrong.

Bella Vet Visit

Bella had been having some issues the previous couple of weeks. She was licking her genitals a lot and having small urinary “accidents” in her bed (and ours!) as well as drinking a lot of water and her appetite was diminished , so we thought she might have a urinary tract infection. We searched online for a highly-rated veterinarian and found the Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital in Austin and made an appointment to take her in for a visit Friday afternoon.

The staff was very nice and Dr. Honeycutt was on duty when we arrived. She examined Bella and found her genitals to be irritated and inflamed, one of the signs of a UTI. They also took a urinary sample, but could find no signs of infection. She gave us some wipes to use daily on Bella after she urinated to clear up the outer inflammation, and told us the “leakage” was a case of loosening muscles in Bella’s urinary tract. For that she gave us a prescription to help give Bella better control. We would watch Bella closely and bring her back for blood tests (which would be more detailed in diagnosis) if we did not see improvement.

Cleaning Email and Hiking to Upper and Lower Falls

Saturday, March 16th was National Panda Day. I gave our oldest granddaughter Charlotte the nickname “Panda” several years back, so of course I had to text her that it was her day, lol.

Sunday I spent all afternoon and evening going through my email inbox. I deleted 3,600 plus emails, unsubscribed from many lists I no longer keep up with and filed the rest into folders to get my inbox down to zero. How long will it remain that way?

Monday we hiked to the Upper and Lower Falls of Onion Creek in McKinney State Park. All three of us were exhausted by lunchtime.


Tuesday morning, Cindy was sitting outside enjoying her morning tea when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. When she looked she saw a coyote walking down the road just as cool as you please. She was SO excited! She snapped a few shots with her iPhone and it WAS pretty cool to see the coyote just rambling along the road without a care in the world.

Devastating News

That afternoon, though the medicine helped her gain better control of her urinary tract muscles, Bella was still drinking a lot of water and still having loss of appetite, so we returned to the vets. Dr. McCoy was on duty that day (I refrained from calling her “Bones”) and was as helpful as Dr. Honeycutt was on our previous visit. She wanted to do a sonogram of Bella’s bladder because that would show if there was any infection in a much better way than collecting Bella’s urine. That sonogram came back clear. Cindy and I were worried now that Bella might be having kidney issues, so we asked for the blood test panels to be taken. Dr. McCoy promised to call us as soon as they had the results, which would probably be the next day.

Wednesday morning Cindy and I were in the truck getting ready to leave our site to go to the store when Dr. McCoy called. The news, for us, was horrific. Bella was in stage three (out of four) kidney failure. The doctor gave us some things to watch for and things we could do to make Bella more comfortable, but said realistically Bella had two to a few months maximum before the end.

We just sat there in truck after the call, crying. Even now, almost a month later, I am tearing up just remembering how devastated we felt then and still feel today.

A couple of days later we sent all the test results to Bella’s vet in Orlando. Dr. Wolfen has been seeing Bella almost all of her life. We asked her to look over the test results and let us know if she agreed with the diagnosis and prognosis, holding out a small sliver of hope that maybe something was misdiagnosed. Sadly, she concurred with the severity of the kidney failure and the length of time, telling us how very sorry she was to have to do that.

Now we are just trying to make the most of the time we have left with Bella and to make her as comfortable as we can. She is 13 years old, but even now still acts like a puppy sometimes. But we can also see the loss of a lot of who Bella has been. She’s very tired most of the time, though she still loves her walks and getting to explore. We’ve changed up her food to give her more fluid and to encourage her appetite. We were given bags of fluid to inject into her, but she does not tolerate that process very well and we are reluctant to cause her pain and/or anxiety, even if it helps prolong her life. We are in agreement that she will not live in any kind of pain that we are aware of, even if it means her life is shorter. That would not be quality of life for our girl who has always loved living her full life. We will baby her and comfort her and take as good of care as we are able to make her remaining days happy for her. We have SO many good memories of her and her life with us and that will have to sustain us in her physical absence.

We are hopeful that she will remain with us until we return to Orlando in November, however that would seem to be the outside margin of her life expectancy. But if she does, we would be able to have a home care vet come and help her cross the rainbow bridge and then lay her remains to rest next to her buddy Tigger in Amber’s backyard.

If she does not make it that long and passes while we are on the road we will still do our best to find a home care vet to make her passing easier, but then we will have some hard decisions to make in regard to her remains.

Catching Up With A Friend

But, on to better and happier things.

One of the reasons I was excited about coming back to Austin was getting to see a former FEMA colleague and friend, Lauren Hersh. Lauren and I had made plans in February for Cindy and I to meet her for lunch Thursday, March 21st at Jalisco’s, a nearby restaurant. It was so good to get to see Lauren and spend some time catching up in person with her. And the timing was especially fortuitous because Lauren had just sold her home in Austin and would be moving out of state at the end of April. So thanks again, Lauren, for brightening our visit to Austin.

More Hiking and Watching Bats Fly at Sunset

Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent with more hiking around McKinney Falls State Park and running errands.

Tuesday night we drove to downtown Austin to watch the bats emerge at sunset from the Congress Avenue Bridge, along with about 300 other people. It was one of the experiences I never had while I was deployed there in 2017 – 2018, so I really enjoyed getting to see it with Cindy. None of the photos we took of them emerging turned out to be usable in the low light with their speed. But we did get some pretty good video footage for you. It’s a pretty neat sight if you’ve never seen it before.

Wednesday was spent getting things ready to hit the road the next day and Thursday we were on our way to Potters Creek Campground in Canyon Lake, Texas near New Braunfels and San Antonio to be in the path of totality for the upcoming solar eclipse.

Thanks from following The Wandering Wetheringtons

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