While we were enjoying our week away at Grayton Beach State Park last month, Paisley started having some problems. Mid-week, she started coughing, especially at night, and breathing harder than usual, sometimes noisily. It was worrisome, but since we were away from "home" and without a car, rushing her to a local vet would not have been easy. And she still seemed happy, was eating fine, and enjoying walks around the campground, so it didn't feel quite like an emergency.
My immediate thought was that she might have picked up Kennel Cough (which can linger in places infected dogs have visited for a day or two) or Canine Influenza, both of which cause coughing.
In the back of my mind, though, I worried that it was her heart.
Paisley had her tenth birthday this past Groundhog's Day, and she had been diagnosed with a Grade 3 heart murmur (out of six grades) at her last regular vet appointment in April 2017. Never having a dog with heart issues before, we really didn't know what the implications of that were -- or that it could progress to heart failure. The vet asked if she was coughing, and at that point, she wasn't. But just knowing that she did have a murmur made me worry. Were things progressing?
I realized that unless things changed quickly for the better I would have to find a local vet when we returned to our current home RV park in Winter Garden. Since we've been RVing, we've taken her to a vet in North Carolina, and had only had one other vet emergency in Florida when she was bitten by another dog last fall in a different RV park, suffering a puncture wound in her neck area. In that case, I called a mobile vet, who did a great job patching her up and dispensing medications, and Paisley recovered quickly. But I thought this was possibly too serious for a mobile vet to handle.
I chose a local vet less than 1.5 miles from our RV park and gave them a call as soon as we returned from our trip. They were able to get Paisley in that morning. Since we didn't want her to have to walk that far, we took her in Barry's bike basket, and she did just great!
The vet, Dr. Valentine, couldn't have been nicer or more thorough. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was not what I wanted to hear, but what I feared: Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). This had caused fluid to build up in her lungs, thus the coughing. An x-ray revealed that Paisley's heart was enlarged, and her respiration and heart rate were elevated. On the positive side, the EKG showed no arrhythmia, and she is "only" ten years old, on the younger side for CHF in a small dog. Her complete blood work also revealed no abnormalities. This was excellent news since it means that her liver and kidneys are still in good shape at this point and thus could handle the medication load.
Dr. Valentine gave Paisley oxygen for a bit and administered a diuretic injection to help her rid her body of the excess fluid. She also sent us home with several medications and food. Paisley will need to be on a very low-sodium diet for the rest of her life to keep her blood pressure low. No more jerky treats she loves...sigh! We were to bring her back to the vet the following afternoon for a re-check.
When we got back to Pearl, she was already doing noticeably better. She had stopped coughing and was much calmer. It was obvious that her heart rate and respiration were lower. She was like a different dog at the next day's recheck, calm and yet full of energy. Seeing how she recovered so dramatically on the meds, we realized that she had been slowly declining for awhile,: sleeping more and needing more rest when we took her on walks. We just didn't realize it was her heart condition worsening versus simple aging since it was a gradual process, until our week at the beach.
We had a second vet re-check a week later, and she was doing very well. She really was like a new dog, and Dr. Valentine was pleased. The medications she'll have to be on for the rest of her life have been very successful in dogs with CHF and have bought many of them significant amounts of additional time -- from months to years.
Here are the "miracle meds" Paisley is taking daily:
For her first week, Paisley was only allowed to go outside to do her business, no longer walks or play, to allow her heart to rest. She wanted to walk a lot more than I was able to let her, though. At her one week re-check, Dr. Valentine said she could do modest exercise, nothing intense, and to be careful with heat. This works out fine as we've always done her longer walk or play time (ball fetching) after dinner because of living in warm places. And I stick to walking her in shady areas when she has to go out mid-day.
It was hard to keep her down during her week of prescribed inactivity. It was obvious that she was feeling a lot better! She was sleeping less and bringing us various toys to play with. Once we were allowed, we started taking her to the small dog park in the campground and throwing her ball for her a few times after dinner (and in the shade), as she loves to retrieve and always has. She is leading on walks again rather than lagging behind. What a wonderful change!
She has another vet re-check at the end of the month, and after that, assuming all is still well, she won't have to go to the vet as frequently.
We're so thankful for Dr. Valentine, who really knows her stuff and has taken such good care of Paisley. This was an unexpected and big expense, but Paisley is totally worth it to us. We don't know how long she'll be with us, but at least with appropriate treatment, we'll have her to entertain us for awhile longer -- and we'll treasure every day!
Here are some resources for canine Congestive Heart Failure I found useful while learning about this disease:
Here are a few more peeks into what we did while we camped in Grayton Beach State Park in April. We really did pack a lot in and make the most of our six days on Florida's Emerald Coast.
Exploring Beach Towns by Bike.
After exploring the 30a bike path (also called the Timpoochee Trail) to the west of Grayton Beach on our quest for fish tacos, the next day it was time to ride towards the east to see what that part of the trail was like. This section goes through several beach towns.
After the planned developments of Watercolor and Seaside, you'll pass through Seagrove Beach, Secrest, Alys Beach (where all the buildings are white!), and Rosemary Beach. The round trip from Grayton Beach State Park was approximately 25 miles, though we turned around maybe a mile from the eastern terminus of the trail.
Here's a basic map of the area, though not all of the towns are shown.
While the trail is fun to ride, there are many driveway and road crossings, especially in Seagrove Beach. With all the bike rentals available, I am sure it could get crazy busy during the high season, though it wasn't bad at all on a weekday in April. I was glad to be riding my mountain bike, as some sections are pretty bumpy, with broken pavement in spots. While you could ride a skinny-tired road bike, I wouldn't recommend it.
For more information on the Timpoochee Trail, here are a couple of links: Overview and Very Detailed.
Finding a Favorite Dinner Spot.
We discovered a good restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach just a short bike ride (approximately one mile) away from the campground. We liked it so much the first night that we ended up pedaling back the following night as well!
We sat on the large outdoor porch with a great pond view.
We even saved enough room to split a slice of this decadent peanut butter pie -- oh my!
Taking a Hike.
There is a nature trail in the park near the beach. It traverses dunes and lush wooded areas. We hiked it on a cool, cloudy Saturday morning, our last day in the park, and shared it only with birds and other wildlife. Perfect.
Heavy spring rain prior to our arrival in the park left a short section of the trail muddy. We both tested our balance on this log and made it across without dipping a foot in the muck. (I confess that Barry had to hold out a hand for me from the other side as I was nervous I might not make it.)
Enjoying the Beautiful Beach.
And of course, there were many beach walks. The section that is part of the state park was almost always this uncrowded. Bliss!
We encountered this sandy homage to a sea turtle....
Although the gulf waters were still too nippy for swimming (except for a few hearty souls), we both dipped our feet in.
We enjoyed walking until the sun set every evening. This is one of my favorite times of day.
We hated to put Grayton Beach in our rearview mirror, but we're so glad we discovered this magical spot.
During our recent trip to the "Emerald Coast" along Florida's Panhandle, we didn't realize just how close our campground at Grayton Beach State Park would be to the charming village of Seaside. I had long been aware of this master-planned community, since my father and step-mother had visited and loved it years ago, but had never managed to get there.
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about its history:
Seaside is an unincorporated master-planned community on the Florida panhandle in Walton County, between Panama City Beach and Destin. One of the first communities in America designed on the principles of New Urbanism, the town has become the topic of slide lectures in architectural schools and in housing-industry magazines, and is visited by design professionals from all over the United States.The town rose to global fame as being the main filming location of the movie The Truman Show. On April 18, 2012, the American Institute of Architects's Florida Chapter placed the community on its list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places as the Seaside – New Urbanism Township.
Reading this, I understand better why this town so appealed to my father and step-mother, who were both architects. And once I finally had a chance to see it with my own eyes, I was charmed as well.
Seaside is only a two-mile walk or bike ride from Grayton Beach State Park. You can take the bike or footpath, or you can walk east on the beautiful beach! We did this pretty much every morning.
This obelisk marks the public entrance to Seaside. There are several other private pass-throughs for residents and guests.
Here's the beautiful beach at Seaside, looking back from the stairs to the Obelisk.
As you walk into the village from the obelisk, you are immediately greeted by a huge mural in shades of lavender and gray. Newly painted, it is a tribute to Vincent Scully, who died in November 2017 at the age of 97. Scully was a well-known professor of art history at Yale University and made a lasting impact on the study of Architecture. His influence inspired the creation of Seaside; thus, his memory is honored here in a prominent place by street artist "Gaia".
Beside the mural, the main public square of Seaside includes an adorable Airstream food truck row and a tiny post office.
As you walk a few streets inland, you'll pass shops, a small community school, a public concert/gathering area, colorful single-family homes in a variety of architectural designs, and small natural parks. You will eventually make your way to the picturesque and well-known town chapel designed by Architect Scott Merrill, who also designed some of the homes in the Seaside community.
If you want to learn more about Seaside's history and see photos of some of the lovely homes, as well as a terrific aerial view of the entire development, check out the Florida Backroads Travel website; they have a great write-up and excellent images.
Now, back to our experiences there!
Of course, when we saw that there was a donut food truck, Five Daughters Bakery, we knew we would have to stop for a sample. Most of the donuts sold here are actually "cronuts", a hybrid between a flaky French croissant and a standard donut. We'd never tried these before.
It was a tough choice!
Since these donuts were pricier than most, we limited ourselves to two to share. One was an expresso/chocolate, and the other a maple. They were super yummy, but not sure if they were worth the $5 price tag each. Seaside is not for the faint of wallet!
The taco bar wasn't open when we happened by, but we still had fun playing tourists.
Another day, we tried the Raw & Juicy food truck in another Airstream trailer. Everything on the menu sounded creative and very healthy. We've been married so long we often find ourselves gravitating to the same menu item, and this was one of those times. We both ordered the Costa Rican bowl, with brown rice, black beans, tomatoes, avocado, lime, and cilantro. It was a delicious and hearty lunch.
Our pizza was the "Farmer's Market", with a mix of veggies that changes seasonally. This corn was so sweet and unevenly cut enough that I believe it was fresh off the cob. This was one seriously tasty 'za!
After lunch, we stopped by the Modica Market, a small gourmet grocery store in Seaside, and picked up an assortment of freshly baked goodies. We didn't eat all this but saved some for the next day's drive, and some went into the freezer. It was all so delicious!
We are glad we finally got to visit Seaside; it is a special place, and I can see why it is revered by so many. We can't afford to live there, but I hope we get another chance to visit one day!
It just doesn't get much prettier than this....
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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