Most people who get their dogs cloned — whether they are Barbra Streisand or a non-celebrity — do so in a misguided attempt to hang on, if not to that dog, at least to its memory.
A Michigan woman had a slightly different reason: She cloned her daughter’s dog to hang on to her daughter’s memory.
And, however much sympathy that might evoke, however difficult this is to say, that’s still every bit as misguided.
Photographer Monnie Must, who has spent her career capturing memories, lost her eldest daughter, Miya, to suicide almost 11 years ago.
Must took over the care of Miya’s two dogs, Henley and Billy Bean.
As the 10th anniversary of Miya’s death approached, Henley passed away. Billy, a black Lab, was about to turn 14.
“Billy was her (Miya’s) soul and the thought of losing her was more than I could possibly bear,” she said.
“I thought, I am going to clone her,” Must told Fox 2 in Detroit. “I don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t like I was reading about it, I just thought I am going to clone her.”
Must began researching what it would take to clone Billy, and ended up in contact with a U.S. company called PerPETuate, the only U.S. company offering the service. The cloning was accomplished in a lab operated by Viagen, a company that primarily clones livestock.
Two vials of tissue were taken from Billy, and scientists merged Billy’s cells with egg cells of of another dog, creating an embryo with Billy’s exact DNA.
That was implanted into a surrogate dog at a Rochester, N.Y., lab operated by Viagen.
Last October, they called to tell her they were going to do an ultrasound on Oct. 11 — Miya’s birthday.
“It’s like, really? Of all the dates?” Must said.
Eight weeks after the birth of the dog, named Gunni, Must, who lives in Sylvan Lake, Mich., flew to Rochester to pick her up.
“There was like an immediate bond between us, this dog. I just adore this dog.”
Now eight months old, Gunni’s appearance and personality strike her as identical to those of Billy.
“Billy was kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog – and Gunni is kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog and she is smart,” she said. “So all I can see so far.”
And here is where I need to stop and point out a few things.
Cloned dogs don’t always have the exact appearance as the original, and a “personality” match is even less likely. Often, when they do, it’s because surplus dogs have also been cloned. Souls, I’d respectfully argue, are not transferable. How many puppies have you known that aren’t wild, crazy and happy? What did Must really pay $50,000 for, and could not an equally similar dog been found at her local shelter?
Grief can lead us to do strange things — and that is what those who invented and marketed the service have counted on since the bump-filled beginning.
(You can read about that bumpy beginning in my book, “Dog, Inc.”)
PerPETuate reported on its that Facebook page that the dogs are physically similar, but that Gunni was not initially getting along with Billy Bean, the donor dog, who is still alive.
Must says Gunni is “perfect” and that having her in her life has reduced her anxiety.
“A lot of people have feelings – is this right, is this wrong?” she said. “For me, this is what was going to make me function.” Those who would criticize her, she said, “are not in that position. You can’t walk in someone’s shoes. I hope no one else has to walk in those shoes.”
One never feels fully whole again after losing a child, she says, but with Gunni at her side she is able to feel joy again.
As one who can relate to that, I’m happy she found a pathway to joy, even though — sadly — it was not the right one.