A family devastated by the death of their beloved dog paid $50,000 (£39,000) to clone him after he saved his pregnant owner from a rattle snake.David and Alicia Tschirhart found out Labrador retriever Marley had cancer when their first daughter was born and were heartbroken she wouldn’t grow up with him. The parents decided to look into genetically duplicating 12-year-old Marley so they ‘wouldn’t lose everything of him’ when he died.
A few months before he passed away, skin samples were taken from him which were then frozen and placed in an incubator where cells multiply by millions.
After saving the cells for five years, the couple finally felt ready for a mini Marley and a surrogate dog was implanted with an embryo containing his cells.In December, last year, the parents brought home puppy Ziggy, who was born genetically identical to Marley, and were astonished by how similar he was to the original. David, 40, from San Diego, California, said: ‘When I lost Marley I didn’t think I would have those feelings for a dog again.
‘But with Ziggy, I feel like Marley’s presence is here again.
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‘He was indistinguishable from Marley – he had the same traits and the same personality.’David and Alicia, 37, quickly fell in love with eight-week-old Marley when the dad-of-two got him when he was a student in 2002. ‘He was a great dog from the very beginning,’ David said. ‘He was very gentle and compassionate.’
Marley was a ‘wonderful companion’ to the couple while they moved around the country after graduating and embarked on their legal careers.In 2014, when Alicia was four months pregnant with daughter Madeleine, Marley came to the rescue on a hike to the top of San Diego’s Battle Mountain.
The hike became steep for the mum-to-be and bent down to pick up a stick to help her walk.
‘Marley darted away from me and he was digging and clawing at the ground where Alicia had her hand,’ David said.
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‘It surprised me and when I looked more closely, I saw there was a coiled rattlesnake there. He startled the snake and it slithered away.
‘We got home and sat down and felt pretty emotional. We realised what had just happened and how deadly it could have been.’Just a couple of months later, when Madeleine was born in July, the couple were devastated to discover Marley had cancer.
‘We had 12 years with him and he had just done this heroic act for us,’ said the father.‘I thought about Maddie and that she would never know him or what he had done.’
He came across Texas cloning company ViaGen Pets, which famously duplicated Barbara Streisand’s dog Samantha, and stored Marley’s cells. To clone a pet, ViaGen requires at least two skin samples, usually taken from the belly or inside of the leg, to collect the DNA.
The samples are packed in ice and sent to a laboratory where they are placed in an incubator and within two to four weeks they duplicate into millions of cells.
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They are harvested and placed in vials which are frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks.Melain Rodriguez, client service manager at ViaGen Pets, said: ‘They can be maintained in this frozen state forever…
‘Most of our clients are just choosing to store their pet cells right now because the cloning process is so expensive.’
This genetic preservation costs $1,600 (£1,250) with an annual $150 (£117) fee for storage. Cloning a dog costs $50,000 (£39,000), while a cat is $35,000 (£27,400).
Marley died in 2014 but with a newborn, the couple weren’t ready to bring a puppy into their lives and waited until last year when Madeleine, five, and Colette, three, to were old enough to appreciate a dog.
When clients are ready to clone, a donor egg is then taken from another dog. The nucleus of the egg is removed so there is no DNA and replaced with one of the millions of cells from the original animal.
The embryo is implanted into a surrogate animal who gives birth to a puppy genetically identical to the original dog – and this was how Ziggy was born.
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‘We could tell immediately that this was Marley’s clone – the markings on his face and his fur were exactly the same,’ said David.
David described the ‘surreal’ moment he came face to face with Marley’s clone.
‘I had explained to my daughters that it was Marley’s twin, born later,’ said David. ‘They were very excited. When Ziggy got here, the kids were full of pure joy.‘There are times when I look out of the corner of my eye and I think, “Oh Marley is there”, but it’s Ziggy.’
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