Pets are more than just animals, they’re family members. For Matt McWhirter of the Ben and Matt show on 102.5 KNIX and his wife, Vanessa, this adage rang true as they were faced with emergency surgery to fix sudden paralysis of their dog Penny’s hind legs.

The 10-year-old Labradoodle’s story received attention on social media from KNIX listeners as Matt McWhirter told her story on air.

Penny after surgery on the day of her discharge from the hospital, eager to return home.

“Yesterday, I will be honest with you, I went through the emotional ringer,” McWhirter said during the radio show. “I was sad; I cried; I was happy. I felt, when we finally got home last night … I felt like I had run a marathon.”

Matt and Vanessa McWhirter took a trip to Flagstaff and there, Penny reached a point where she could not walk unassisted anymore. The McWhirters decided they needed to take her to be evaluated by a specialist.

“Penny’s thing [had] been going on for about a month and she [had] not been herself and we couldn’t figure it out,” Matt McWhirter said. “Her situation kept declining. … We would go on walks and she would just lay down and start shaking. There was something wrong and we couldn’t figure it out.”

The McWhirters took Penny to emergency medicine veterinarian Staci Brigham, DVM, at VETMED who looked at radiographs of Penny’s spinal column that revealed a mineralized intervertebral disk — making disk disease (i.e. slipped disk) a possible diagnosis. The next step was a referral to the Veterinary Neurological Center.

“Dr. Brigham told us, ‘You need to go down to this place that is south of the airport: the [Veterinary] Neurological Center,’” Matt said to listeners. “And it’s like a hard-core hospital for dogs.”

Dr. Brigham called to consult with Dr. Kim Knowles at the VNC about getting Penny an appointment on an emergency basis. Her problem had been medically managed, but was not improving and she was weak when walking and in pain.

Dr. Knowles approved a same-day emergency appointment for Penny and during her neurological examination, Penny was alert, but would grunt and tense up due to pain. She couldn’t get herself up without someone supporting her back end, but she did have good motor to her back legs. After a thorough examination, Dr. Knowles recommended a CT scan of the spine and possible spinal surgery to remove the suspected disk material pressing on the spinal cord.

Without pet insurance or pet medical savings and depending on each individual’s circumstances, moving forward with advanced services such as CT and MR imaging and neurosurgery can be a difficult decision to make. The McWhirters were faced with this challenging choice, but for them, it came down to family.

“It was hard,” Matt said to listeners. “And I ended up doing it. I couldn’t, in good faith, not. Penny, for our family, came along and rescued Vanessa and the kids when they needed her.”

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Penny and family. Photo courtesy of Vanessa McWhirter.

The CT scan revealed disk material compressing the spinal cord by approximately 80 percent, which required surgical removal. After surgery by VNC neurosurgeon, Dr. Scott Plummer, where a large amount of the disk material was removed, Penny was able to get up with minimal assistance using a sling to support her as she walked.

Two weeks after surgery, Penny came in for removal of her surgery sutures. She was walking normally and off pain medication. Dr. Knowles and Dr. Plummer believe over the next four to six weeks, Penny will make an excellent recovery.

The McWhirters are grateful for the outpouring of love from the Phoenix community, as well as the expertise of the Veterinary Neurological Center that led to the dramatic improvement in Penny’s condition.

“Gotta give [the Veterinary Neurological Center] a lot of love … they’re an incredible [veterinary group] here in the Valley,” Matt said to KNIX listeners. “And we’re so blessed; we’re so happy she gets to come home and we’ll keep her quiet for a couple weeks so she heals. It was all good: your love and support and all your social media messages — everything like that.”

To read more about Penny and hear the audio from the Ben and Matt Show, visit: