Pet cloning: Man’s best friend, again

National News

Marley, and his Yellow Lab clone, Ziggy

(CBS) — David and Alicia Tschirhart adored their Yellow Lab, Marley, but they never knew just how much, until that day back in 2014 when they were hiking with him in hills near their San Diego home.

“Alicia went off the path to grab a walking stick to help through the path,” David recalled. “And Marley all of a sudden just like darted from me and he started clawing the ground where Alicia was reaching for a walking stick. And I didn’t know what was happening. Alicia kind of fell back.

“When I looked more closely I saw that it was a rattlesnake,” he told correspondent Tracy Smith.

Rattlers are common on these trails, which are very steep and miles from any hospital. And the Tschirharts didn’t have cell phones with them. For Alicia, who was four months pregnant, a snake bite could have been a disaster. Thankfully, 12-year-old Marley scared the snake away – and a few months later, the Tshirharts’ first daughter, Maddie, was born. “Marley had saved my family,” said David. “And we got emotional that time, and just realized how lucky we were that he had done that in that moment.”

But by then, Marley had been diagnosed with cancer, and by Thanksgiving weekend 2014, it was clear the end was near.

“I just remember the last thing you said to him was, you know, you just kept saying, ‘Thank you for being the best dog,'” said Alicia. “And I was just crying, and holding his hand.”

“He was, yeah, everything he did, you know, was just out of love,” said David.

And their love for Marley was so strong they couldn’t really let go. So, the Tshirharts turned to ViaGen Pets, of Austin, Texas, a company that has cloned hundreds of pets for a multitude of grateful owners, including (according to ViaGen’s client service manager Melain Rodriguez) Barbra Streisand: “We did, yes – her dog had passed away. And I think that she had known about what we do, and we were able to get samples very quickly. And there were actually more than one puppy born.”

Rodriguez said it works like this: your vet takes a tissue sample from your pet and sends it off to ViaGen.

And for as much $50,000, the company will culture the cells, create embryos, implant them in a surrogate, and deliver a clone of your loved one.

But animal rights groups say forcing dogs and cats to be surrogates for clones is simply inhumane.

Smith asked, “You know that the Humane Society says that pet cloning should be outlawed?”

“I understand that,” Roderiguez replied. “And they’re certainly entitled to their opinion. We have a lot of clients that would be very upset if that were the case. So, we get positive feedback continually, wonderful notes of appreciation, that our clients are so happy that this is something that we provide.”

And happy is the operative word at the Tschirharts’.

Marley’s clone, Ziggy, is a yellow ball of exuberance. But to David and Alicia, he’s nothing less than Marley reborn.

“They rang the doorbell with the dog, and I just stood there with my mouth open for, like, five minutes, because I just couldn’t believe how exact he looked,” Alicia said.

“He is exactly the twin of Marley,’ said David. “So, he’s in, I guess, the same environment. So really, he’s become the same dog.”

And while pet cloning is still controversial, it can mean, for some at least, that with the right amount of love, science and money, you never really need to say goodbye.

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