Golden retriever Phoebe started life as an unwanted gift to a college student before becoming the much-beloved pet of Shannon Levy-Heath and her husband Roy.

Shannon and Roy met Phoebe after a friend tipped them off to a Craigslist ad for a golden retriever puppy.

“The first thing I saw was her tail and fell in love immediately,” Shannon says.

Phoebe, whose full name is Phoebe Buffay after the character on the TV show Friends, was about three-and-a-half months old and severely underweight when the California couple took her home. Despite her stature, her bright personality was apparent and inspired her name.

“She’s a lively one,” Shannon says, adding Phoebe is known to stamp her paw, huff and bob her head to make her wishes known, whether it is food, a walk, or any type of attention. “She’s never lost her joy with everything she’s been though.”

Around nine-months-old Phoebe began showing signs of pain and dragging her back legs. Her vet recommended Phoebe see a surgeon, so Shannon brought her to Dr. Kirk Wendelburg, veterinary surgeon and medical director of VCA Animal Specialty Group in Los Angeles, who was recommended by Roy’s friend.

When Shannon asked that friend if she should get a second opinion, he reassured her.

“Dr. Wendelburg is the second opinion.”

Phoebe’s right hip socket had not fully formed, and she had hip dysplasia on her left side. Dr. Wendelburg did Phoebe’s first surgery at eleven-months-old, replacing her right hip. After a few months of successful recovery, she had her left hip replaced as well.

Dr. Wendelburg is known for his success in joint surgeries for dogs. He developed the implant used in Phoebe’s hip surgeries – which greatly improved the success rate of hip surgeries using this prosthesis since 2013.

Before his development, dogs were at risk of the artificial hip acting as a wedge in the femur and causing further damage. His implant solved this problem with a bolt placed to prevent that outcome and is now the most-used canine hip implant and procedure in the world. He is currently working on developing a new and partial replacement system for the elbow, which he hopes will help even more dogs live without joint pain.

“The first total hip replacement I was involved in was 1984, things have come a long way since 1984,” he says, adding that he is always up for the challenge of finding new innovations to help improve the lives of pets.

“Dogs go from a miserable life of pain and limping all the time to their whole personality changing,” he says. “They become happier dogs.”

During her recovery, Phoebe gave Shannon and Roy a couple of surprises with her quick rehabilitation. One time she jumped her dog gate while they were out of the house, and another time she ate the corner of a yoga mat Shannon had laid on the floor to give her better traction.

That stunt got Phoebe shamed on social media and Shannon still laughs thinking about it.

“The whole house was covered in yoga mats, and we never did find that corner she ate!” Shannon recalls.

Phoebe recovered well and lived pain free for four years until she went in for her regular hip checkup and Dr. Wendelburg found her left cranial cruciate ligament or CCL had torn and needed repair. She had the surgery and then found out the other CCL (like an ACL in a human) also needed to be repaired.

Now seven-years-old, Phoebe is more of a platinum retriever than a golden, Shannon jokes.

“She’s basically bionic from the waist down,” she says.

With all her surgeries, Phoebe continues to be a happy and fun-loving dog, enjoying walks in the pier near Shannon and Roy’s house and making friends with the fishermen.

Now when people ask about Phoebe, Shannon says they always recommend Dr. Wendelburg.

“I cannot say enough good things about Dr. Wendelburg and his time and the service we received from them,” she says. “He has done so much ground-breaking work for dogs, and we felt pretty blessed working with him.”

VCA Animal Specialty Group is the animal hospital of choice for referring veterinarians and pet owners in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. Our board-certified specialists, leading ER veterinarians, advanced technicians, and compassionate staff work together by applying their knowledge, experience, skills, and love of animals to the care of seriously ill and injured pets.

If your pet is experiencing joint pain or if you need a second opinion on your pet’s care, find a VCA location here and let our team help your pet receive the best care.