Dylan, a boxer, meant everything to Laura Jacques, a dog walker from West Yorkshire, England. "I fell in love with him from day one," Jacques said. When the 8-year-old canine was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June and given about a year to live, she was devastated.
"Within 19 days of the diagnosis, he was gone," she said.
Her partner, Richard Remde, was grieving as well, but his biggest concern was Jacques' well-being.
"I felt I needed to do something to try to make it better," Remde said.
Most folks would go looking for a puppy to adopt. But instead, Remde packed up some samples of Dylan's tissue and got on a plane to South Korea. His destination was the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which clones dogs for $100,000 a pup. The company's founder has a dark past of possible scientific misconduct and fraud, but his career has seen a second wind, with Sooam producing hundreds of healthy canine clones.
At first, Jacques and Remde simply hoped to put some of Dylan's cells in storage with Sooam so they could consider creating a clone somewhere down the line. But on Dec. 26, the couple welcomed a Boxing Day boxer into the family. And a second clone of Dylan followed the next day.
Sooam clones puppies by taking donor eggs and pulling the genetic material out of them. Cells cultivated from the donor dog are then slipped inside, and the whole thing is zapped with electricity to encourage everything to fuse. If it works, the egg starts growing as if it's fertilized and becomes an embryo — but the genetic material is 100 percent provided by the donor dog, not the egg donor.
This embryo is then implanted into a surrogate, and with any luck, a puppy follows.
"We didn't think it were going to work," Remde said, explaining that cells taken immediately after Dylan's death hadn't been properly refrigerated and had failed to grow. Sooam offered to try with older cells — ones that had spent a week in the deep freeze, and were now 12 days deceased — but it was a long shot. The company had never cloned using cells that old.
"It was never our plan to rush into cloning Dylan, but by the time those cells had gotten to the stage where they were ready to either freeze or clone, they just weren't strong enough that they could guarantee they'd survive being frozen," Jacques said. "We kind of felt like it might be our only chance."
Remde and Jacques say they've been happy with the process so far, and that they're eager to get to know their new puppies — and their puppies' surrogate mothers, which they plan on adopting. That's going to bring their household pup count up to eight, but they feel it's the right thing to do.
It would be easy to assume that Remde and Jacques expect the puppies, Shadow and Chance, to be perfect replicas of their beloved dog. But genes aren't everything, and the identical pups will likely grow into very different dogs than Dylan — even from each other. Fortunately, Remde and Jacques more than understand this. It's actually the way they want it to be.
"To be honest, I don't want them to be too similar to Dylan," Jacques said. "My bond with Dylan . . . I'd never want these puppies to be an exact replica. We're not trying to replace him."