LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For so many of us, a dog or cat is like a family member. And when they pass away, we wish we could do anything to bring them back.
One local woman did just that. She cloned her dog.
For Louisville’s Katie Ryser, Hazel was so much more than a dog.
“I got Hazel when I was five months sober and I was learning how to live again,” Katie said. “Hazel and I kind of muddled through the first two years of sobriety side by side.”
When Hazel was 7 years old, an SUV accidentally ran over the miniature cockapoo in the driveway. She died instantly.
Katie said she remembered a news story she had seen just five days earlier about a company that clones horses, dogs and pets. She called ViaGen Pets.
“They said, ‘You still have time, but you don’t have a lot of time,’” Ryser said.
She rushed Hazel’s body to BluePearl Veterinary Partners. There, a veterinarian collected skin cells from Hazel. The cells were shipped at 38 degrees on gel ice packs down to Texas where they were cultivated.
ViaGen Pets gave WAVE 3 News a video to explain what happens next. They take one of the cells and replace the nucleus of a female dog’s egg. Then, after treatment by ViaGen Pets' patented process, the egg and cell join together and the embryo starts to grow. The embryo is transferred to a surrogate mother. In the case of Hazel’s cell, it was a beagle.
After a typical gestation, the cloned dog is born.
Ryser got to meet Hazel’s clone, which she named Azalea, at 11 weeks old.
"She came right into my arms," Ryser said. "Her tail was moving 100 miles an hour and she just came right to me. Everything is the same (to Hazel) about her. The coloring. Her eyes. Her little button nose."
Ryser said the only physical difference is the small white patch on Azalea’s back paw.
What’s truly remarkable about Azalea is not only does she look so much like Hazel, she also does some of the same things.
Ryser said in the car, she found the same spot Hazel did as a puppy.
“She climbed up my shoulder and laid across my back,” Ryser said.
Azalea also looks at herself in the mirror, like Hazel. Drinks out of Katie’s water glass, like Hazel. Even sits in the same spot on the couch, like Hazel.
“Sort of I’ve been here before,” Ryser said. "I’ve done this before. This is my spot.
“I know that it might seem excessive. And I’m very aware of that. Hazel was not only an incredibly important part of my sobriety and learning how to be a human being again. But she was also a perfect dog.”
And now, she has another perfect dog.
“Just like the original,” Ryser said.
Cloning a dog costs thousands of dollars.
Company spokeswoman Melain Rodriguez said ViaGen Pets clones about 50 dogs and cats a year and preserves cell lines through a genetic preservations service for hundreds of animals per year. That way, the cells can be stored for decades and the pet can be cloned at any point in the future.
Rodriguez also said there doesn’t appear to be a difference in success rates from breed to breed.
Rodriguez added there seems to be a strong correlation between genetics and temperament of an animal, but not much is known about how much genetics influences personality. She said it’s “hard to explain” some of the striking similarities between the original and cloned pets.