After earning his veterinary (DVM) and master's (MS) degree from the University of Missouri, Dr. McDonnell spent four years in general practice in Missouri and Oregon, "But I knew I wanted to do more, so I undertook a three-year Neurology-Neurosurgery residency at Tufts University in Massachusetts." In 1998, he became board-certified in Neurology by the American College of Veterinary Medicine.
Since then, Dr. McDonnell has been on a dual path of academia and private practice, first joining the faculty of University of Georgia where he taught in the hospital and classroom. In 2000, he became chief of Neurology-Neurosurgery at Tufts University. There he helped established the in-house magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suite, a brain surgery unit and minimally-invasive CT-guided biopsy program.
"When I started at Tufts, there were three veterinary neurologists practicing in the Boston area; by the time I left in 2004 to move to Maryland, there were eight—and every one had a full schedule. It goes to show that there really is a demand for veterinary neurology. It's a specialty that most general practitioners welcome."
Since moving to Maryland, Dr. McDonnell has become well-known for his work in the definitive treatment of brain tumors and spinal cord tumors, foramen magnum decompression/dorsal laminectomies and Wobbler's disease. He has lectured nationally, internationally and regionally, and has published more than 20 journal articles, reviews and book chapters.
"Teaching continues to be important to me. I'm an assistant clinical professor at Tufts University and a consultant in Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine. I think having a balance of the academia and private practice enables me to keep at the forefront of veterinary neurology."
Most recently, Dr. McDonnell has been exploring the use of pituitary surgery to treat Canine Cushing's Disease here in the U.S.
"Surgery for pituitary macroadenomas in dogs and cats has been pioneered by Dr. Bjorn Meij of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Despite his work and the proven success of the technique over other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, the surgery has failed to be widely adopted here as a viable treatment option. The procedure is technically challenging and has a very steep learning curve, so I went to the Netherlands in the spring of 2010 to study with Dr. Meij;and I also arranged a special seminar with Dr. Meij at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine. Currently no one east of the Mississippi is offering this treatment option, so it's exciting to be able to offer this."
There are thousands of cases of Canine Cushing's Disease in the U.S. each year, but the current medical treatment is medication given daily or several times per week that treats the symptoms. "With this surgery, we finally have a treatment option that corrects the disease."
Dr. McDonnell and his wife, Leigh, have three dogs: two Boston Terriers, Cece and Spice, and a Golden Retriever named Omya. "Cece had uncontrolled epileptic seizures, and when his owner gave him up, my wife adopted him and challenged me to control the seizures—which I did! He's now twelve and Spice is four; she was a rescue who'd lost an eye to infection."
Omya, the seven-year-old Golden, was originally raised by the McDonnells as a service dog, "But she failed out...much to our delight."
Veterinary neurologist Laura Harvey, DVM joined VNOC in September 2016. When announcing that her appointment to the VNOC/VIOC staff, Dr. McDonnell said, “I’m so pleased to be able to bring on such a superbly qualified neurologist out of the outstanding program at Tufts.”
A graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Harvey completed her internship in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and returned to Tufts to do her residency in Neurology and Neurosurgery. There she received the Resident Award for Excellence in Teaching and was chosen by the Class of 2016 as the first Resident of the Year for routinely going above and beyond for her patients and students.
"I met Dr. McDonnell at Tufts when I was a student, as he continues to teach some anatomy labs there,” Dr. Harvey said. “I was so impressed and was excited to learn about the opportunity to work with him. Plus my family is on the Eastern Shore, just two hours away. I love being closer to them.”
After receiving a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University, Dr. Harvey took two years off from school to work as a veterinary technician. The experience confirmed her career choice.
“Neurology is a fascinating field. It’s on the cutting edge with new surgeries and treatments being developed all the time. Having the MRI capabilities right here at VIOC with one practice team is huge. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to work on the brain tumor trials—and to see where this field goes in the coming years.”
Relationships with pets and their people are important to Dr. Harvey. “We develop both short and long-term relationships. We might see a pet with a back issue over a month or two for diagnosis, surgery and follow-up, while we’ll likely continue to see a pet with seizures over the course of her lifetime.”
Dr. Harvey knows what it’s like to have a pet with a chronic, long-term disease. “My cat, Sage, developed myasthenia gravis, a rare neuromuscular disease, after I’d had her for six years. I’ve managed it for four years, and know that it’s not easy. The key to dealing with these types of medical conditions is recognizing that you can only do your best; no one is perfect. As veterinarians and pet owners, we need to know what are reasonable expectations of care on all fronts. It’s all about compassion and understanding.”
In addition to Sage, Dr. Harvey has another cat, Wolfie and a Labrador retriever named Magnolia. She spends much of her free time outdoors, and particularly enjoys hiking and kayaking.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine in Orono, Dr. Haley attended Tufts University where she met Dr. McDonnell, who was then chief of Neurology-Neurosurgery. “Jay lectured our class about clinical neurology and I was hooked,” she explained. “He had moved [to Annapolis] before I was on clinics, but we kept in touch through the years. He has been a great mentor and friend to me. In fact, I credit (blame?) him for wanting to become a neurologist!”
After graduating from Tufts, Dr. Haley undertook a neurology/ neurosurgery internship at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston, TX, and residency at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She received a postgraduate certificate in Academic Practice from the University of Glasgow where she was a lecturer in Neurology and Neurosurgery from 2010 to 2012.
Dr. Haley, who began working at VNoC in July 2014, said, “I took the position in part because I thought that it would be fun to experience what it is like to be in a private practice. Working in academia is fun and rewarding, but a bit slower as we take a lot of time out to teach students, interns and residents. It has been fun to work at a faster, more efficient pace. The staff at VNoc are exceptional - friendly, hardworking and efficient. It makes the day enjoyable!”
Like Dr. Haley, Dr. Early is a long-time friend and colleague of Dr. McDonnell. "I've known Jay for years," he said. "I've gotten to know him better in the last five years through UPenn where we were Locum Clinical Professors. I am primarily an academic person but up to a quarter of my time is spent working in specialty practice. I appreciate the opportunity to practice at VNoC. My goal is to provide excellent neurosurgery. "
After graduating from the University Of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Early interned at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and continued with a residency at North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Early, who started at VNoC in August 2014, has been a Locum Clinical Professor at both Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, and a Clinical Neurologist at practices in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.