Cornell University Hospital for Animals



Hospital Services
Companion Animal

Success Stories


SirNogginSir Noggin Gets a New "Noggin"

Some say cats have nine lives. If so, Sir Noggin has cashed in several already. In August, he was a stray, rescued from Brooklyn traffic. At first glance, it appeared from a bump on his “noggin” that he had suffered head trauma. An MRI donated by Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Massachusetts, however, proved otherwise: He was born with an encephalocele, a condition rarely seen because animals usually die at birth or are euthanized.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, encephaloceles are “rare neural tube defects characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain and the membranes that cover it through openings in the skull. These defects are caused by failure of the neural tube to close completely during fetal development.”

In Sir Noggin’s case, Dr. Curtis Dewey, associate professor and section chief for neurology at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, explains, the sac was filled with spinal fluid that had settled between the two hemispheres of his brain and was protruding from the skull. The fluid put pressure on the cat’s brain, causing him to appear depressed and lethargic after play.

Sir Noggin was referred to CUHA where Dr. Curtis Dewey, associate professor and section chief for neurology, believed the condition could be fixed. In what is thought to be the inaugural surgery to remove a feline encephalocele, Dewey removed the sac and all associated abnormal tissue, constructed a new meningeal layer using connective tissue to protect the brain, and built a new skull with titanium mesh and bone cement.

“Basically, we gave him a helmet,” said Dewey, explaining that he used a special drill to insert 13, 3-millimeter screws to hold the titanium plate in place. “The surgery was a success on several levels. Of course, it was a success for Sir Noggin and his family. Beyond that, though, we have learned valuable lessons that can be applied to future cases. Encephaloceles do not have to be a death sentence for animals.”

Greta Masters, who adopted Sir Noggin and has told his story on the Internet ( has made two 10-hour road trips to Ithaca and expects to make a third trip for a follow-up visit. “He’s doing marvelously,” she said. “We are so pleased with all the help we received from Cornell and around the world.”

The cost of the surgery was supported with a gift from the Cornell Feline Health Center as well as gifts from more than 300 donors from around the world



risaThe Day Risa Slayed the Dragon

Coyotes left her for dead. When Risa, an 11-year-old dachshund, was found on the forest floor, she was bleeding and in shock. Fearing the worst, Dan Evett and Janet Snoyer bundled up their long-time companion and brought her to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, where they met Dr. Jay Harvey, Dr. Heather Knapp-Hoch, and veterinary student Rosie Busayawatanasood ’10 in the emergency room. Thus began a week-long vigil – fraught with life and death decisions – that ended with tough-girl Risa defying the odds.

Risa had sustained multiple injuries: she had muscle damage in her neck, crushed vertebrae, internal bleeding, and had lost a good deal of blood. After a three-hour, two-surgeon operation, Risa was transferred to the ICU, where it was touch and go for several days.

“Despite the surgery, it was difficult for anyone to know if she would make it,” said Evett, who is a semi-retired archaeologist. “By the third day, though, there was reason to believe that she would come through the ordeal. But no one had any idea if she would be a dog or a dog invalid.”

After six days, Risa trotted into the waiting room, albeit a bit sideways as her coordination was still off, headed home with advice from the Hospital’s surgery, pain management and rehabilitation services. Dan, who took over physical therapy when Janet was out of town, turned therapy into a game and allowed Risa to direct the sessions, explaining that Risa showed him what she could do.

“The exercises that we recommended for Risa were designed to challenge without stressing her injuries or her attitude,” said Dr. Andrea Looney, senior lecturer and director of the pain management program. “She has made a remarkable recovery. Definitely a story of positive energy and sheer determination – from Risa, from her owners, and from Rosie, who saw opportunities to collaborate with services across the Hospital to speed Risa’s recovery.”