Why I chose to clone my once-in-a-lifetime dog
Friday, October 14, 2016
In my practice, I make many house calls to assess and treat animals who are often elderly or very sick — nearly half of my business is in-home euthanasia. Distraught pet owners are often looking for ways to ease their grief and maintain their bond with a sick or dying animal companion.
Many years ago, after I lost my first dog, I told myself I would never have just one dog again. It was my way of buffering against the loss. I kept to that rule for a long, long time.
And then there was Matoska. "Mattie" was an exceptional dog. She was mostly American Staghound, born in a metal scrapyard on a Lakota Indian reservation in South Dakota, where I first met her when she was just four months old. I took her back to New York City shortly afterward.
The first surprise she had for me was how quickly she acclimated to urban life. Though she had never seen anything like the city — she had never been in a car and had never even been indoors before — Mattie understood all of it from the beginning. She displayed a keen intuition and seemed to anticipate what was needed in every situation.
Whenever we went someplace new or engaged in any new activity, I never needed to explain what I expected of her. Mattie just knew.
I've had high-performance dogs for 40 years, including ex-racing greyhounds and others who have done well in competition. I had expected the purpose-bred puppy to be a superior athlete, but during the first few years I was often blown away by Mattie's athletic abilities.
She swam well. She retrieved. She wasn't afraid of, nor slowed by, rough terrain. She was impervious to bad weather. She could run in extreme heat or cold; nothing seemed to bother her.
Mattie was also far and away the smartest dog I've ever had. She had a great temperament, and was charismatic and friendly. Even though I'd done my research, I hadn't expected her intelligence or leadership. Other dogs looked to her for cues on how to behave.
In April, when I discovered Mattie had cancer, I knew I needed to do something to preserve her genetics. I had never been able to find an appropriate male counterpart for her, despite spending a lot of time and money going back to the prairie and driving across the country looking at dogs.
I did more research and found a U.S. company, ViaGen Pets, to preserve her DNA through genetic preservation and establish a cell line. Even though she had never been anesthetized before, Mattie, of course, was fine during the simple biopsy required to extract the tissue samples for genetic preservation. ViaGen's kit was complete and thorough.
In July, I had to euthanize my constant companion. I had broken my rule and become overly attached (if such a thing is possible) to Mattie, who ended up being an only dog for most of the 12 years I had her.
I'm not ready to start the cloning process yet. However, when I am, I realize that when you're looking for a particular thing — a particular set of attributes — you can get closer via cloning than via breeding.
Cloning is exactly the right way to go for me. I have probably spent as much money searching for the right dog to breed with Mattie as I will on cloning. I'm not interested in breeding puppies that will then need to be placed somewhere else. Cloning actually results in only one or two, and I only want one.
With the personal investment I have in the outcome, I prefer working with a U.S.-based company, which has a lower, fixed price than overseas options, and better consumer protections.
From now on, I plan to talk about genetic preservation and cloning with every client who appears to be in a similar situation. I believe best medical practices dictate that I present all available options. It will be a routine part of my discussions going forward.
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