UK residents Laura Jacques and Richard Remde are spending their Christmas in South Korea this year, while they wait for the birth of two puppies cloned from their dead dog, a boxer named Dylan. Dylan's clones are expected to arrive on the 26th and the 27th, all thanks to Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. And by many accounts, it is a miracle.
Jacques and Remde will be livestreaming the birth of their mini-Dylans, which are scheduled to be born five hours apart, on December 26 and 27. Jacques and Remde will also be live tweeting the births over at @WeLovedDylan.
Dylan died unexpectedly of a heart attack this June, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors had given him a good number of months left to live, but he died within weeks of his diagnosis. "It was a total shock" said Jacques. "He was with me through my twenties," she explained, "we were so close from day one. Dylan was so special." It was this bond that drove her to freeze Dylan in the hopes that she would be able to clone him later on. It wasn't until she started doing research did she learn that cloning technology was already there, and that a clone of Dylan was plausible.
Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, the only laboratory in the world in regards to dog cloning, has cloned more than 700 dogs already. It charges $100,000 to clone one dog. For Jacques and Remde, it then became a race against time, because after an animal has been dead for more than five days it becomes exponentially more difficult to clone. The animal is also not supposed to be frozen.
Jacques and Remde's first attempt, using a sample of Dylan's skin, was unsuccessful despite fitting within the five day window. But the second time, using Dylan's muscle tissue, worked, even though Dylan had already been dead for 12 days. Remde flew the sample over in a DIY DNA sample kit he made out of a cooler, two ice packs, a ton of duct tape and bubble wrap. "We never expected it to work," said Jacques, but in fact the second sample worked twice.
Because of the unusual circumstances around Dylan's samples, and how they pushed the boundaries of what they previously thought possible, Sooam CTO Hwang Woo-su waived the fee for a second puppy.
Besides the $100,000 price tag, Jacques and Remde estimate they've spent another five thousand dollars on plane and hotel fare, and Jacques predicts she'll spend at least another $5,000 once the puppies are born. By UK law, puppies have to be over seven months old before they can enter the country, so in the meantime, Jacques plans on flying back to the Sooam Laboratories in South Korea when she can to bond with and help train the puppies.
As expensive as it all is, Jacques is realistic about the puppies' personalities and them not being just like Dylan. "In no way do I think I am getting Dylan back. They are completely different animals and my bond with Dylan could never be recreated," she said. If anything, the puppies will be regarded as Dylan's offspring.
Throughout this whole thing, Jacques' family and friends have been supportive and happy for her, she said. They were "a bit shocked about the cost," Jacques added, "because it is a ridiculous amount of money to pay" for a new dog, cloned or not. But the couple didn't hesitate: they have four other dogs, and say they only really spend their money on their pets. "I even hate shopping," laughed Jacques. "No expense was spared" for Dylan's clones, and "it's all completely worth it."
Not everyone agrees.
Helen Wallace, the director of GeneWatch UK, a nonprofit that monitors biotechnologies related to genetics, told the Guardian "cloning for pets should be banned" and that "there is no justification for it." Wallace explained the cloning of mammals is "not normally successful" and she is concerned commercial cloning companies will "exploit grieving pet owners."
In a statement to Motherboard, Kathy Guillermo, the Senior Vice President of PETA, echoed Wallace's statement. The cloning of pets "causes tremendous harm," wrote Guillermo, adding "cloning has at least a 90 percent failure rate" and "many dogs are caged and tormented for every birth that is considered successful." According to Guillermo, "when you consider that millions of perfectly adoptable dogs end up unwanted in shelters every year or die in terrifying ways when abandoned on the streets, the idea of cloning becomes macabre."
The couple, however, are thrilled. "This is the best Christmas present of our lives," Remde said.