They're the couple who spent £80k cloning two puppies
There's nothing like an early morning dog walk to blow away the cobwebs. But for Laura Jacques and her partner Richard Remde, last weekend’s bracing yomp was more like a hurricane than a gentle breeze.
Out in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, the couple were surrounded by no fewer than eight yapping hounds, all bounding and racing about.
Laura, 30, had hired a farmer’s field for £16 an hour so they could introduce their four new dogs — Shadow, Chance, Hope and Sassy — to their original four, Harvey, Max, Chloe and Dinky (a first meeting on neutral territory is apparently the key to harmonious co-existence).
Seven-month-old puppies Shadow and Chance are no ordinary dogs (centre): they are clones, sharing 100 per cent of their DNA with Laura’s boxer Dylan, who died last year
But despite their best efforts to keep things calm ‘it got crazy’, according to long-suffering Richard.
‘The boxers and the bullmastiff started jumping about and Max, my 16-year-old cocker spaniel, got knocked over at one point also I was in a bad mood and, yeah, a part of me thought “Oh no...” ’
Acquiring four new dogs at once when you own four already might seem particularly foolish — especially if the additions cost more than £80,000.
Yet seven-month-old boxer puppies Shadow and Chance are no ordinary dogs: they are clones, sharing 100 per cent of their DNA with Laura’s former beloved boxer Dylan, who died last year.
Dylan, Laura’s eight-year-old pet, suffered a fatal seizure and died at the vet’s surgery
The other two newcomers, Hope and Sassy, are the pups’ surrogate mothers. They gave birth to Shadow and Chance but have no genetic relationship with them.
While they are under no formal obligation to care for the latter two dogs, the couple felt they ‘owed them’ and couldn’t resist.
No wonder 43-year-old businessman Richard is feeling somewhat shell-shocked. Laura, meanwhile, is trying to remain upbeat.
‘Richard’s in a bit of a mood with me,’ she says. ‘This morning he was like, “What have we just done? Is this too much?” But he has come round now.’
We last met this unusual couple in January when they had just returned from Seoul, South Korea, where they had watched Shadow and Chance’s birth at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which had arranged to clone the couple’s beloved Dylan.
They were then forced to leave their dogs behind for a full seven months because of strict British quarantine laws.
The new additions seem happy. Bounding around an acre of garden, Shadow and Chance are uncanny facsimiles of each other, with big chocolate eyes and glossy brown coats
Although reaction to the couple’s story was largely positive, some people criticised them for being ‘selfish’ and ‘wasting’ tens of thousands of pounds that could have gone to an animal charity.
Not that this had been the first dog-cloning experiment. That was an Afghan hound named Snuppy in 2005, and Chance and Shadow are the 746th and 747th cloned dogs produced by the same foundation.
While other clones have been the product of cells taken from live animals, Dylan’s samples were extracted after he had been dead for almost a fortnight.
So how does the reality of looking after their new dogs compare with Laura’s dream?
Since returning from Heathrow airport last night to their four-bedroom house in Silsden, West Yorkshire, which is undergoing extensive renovations to accommodate the new residents, the couple have looked shattered.
Laura has spent the morning mopping up after her new un-housetrained pets, which have ‘dodgy tummies’. Meanwhile, Richard is nursing a sizeable scratch to his forehead where one puppy got too excited when greeting their new ‘dad’.
Since bringing the dogs back Laura has spent the morning mopping up after her new un-housetrained pets, which have ‘dodgy tummies’. Meanwhile, Richard is nursing a sizeable scratch to his forehead where one puppy got too excited when greeting their new ‘dad’
‘It feels like I’ve got a hangover,’ he admits. ‘We’ve only been back 12 hours, hardly had any sleep and the house isn’t really ready for the dogs. It’s been a full-on morning.’
A sheepish Laura says: ‘It’s a lot of money and I do feel bad.’
She turns and asks earnestly: ‘Richard, should I feel bad that you’ve spent all that money?
‘Yeah,’ he replies, with a smile.
As for the new additions, they seem happy. Bounding around an acre of garden, Shadow and Chance are uncanny facsimiles of each other, with big chocolate eyes and glossy brown coats.
The procedure had never been done with a dead animal’s cells before. But the clinic suggested it might just work if the cells were fresh enough - and indeed it did
They are handsome fellows. But, crucially, do they look like Dylan?
‘They are a bit thinner in the face but Dylan was always chunky,’ says Laura. ‘Otherwise, yes, they’re identical. Shadow has slightly more white on his nose so he probably looks more like Dylan, but Chance seems more like him in temperament, a bit more laid-back. It’s too early to tell.’
The couple’s story began in May 2015 when Dylan, Laura’s eight-year-old pet, suffered a fatal seizure and died at the vet’s surgery a day later. Laura, who had owned Dylan since he was a puppy, was almost catatonic with shock and stopped eating and drinking.
When we last met, Laura admitted that her intense grief on this occasion might have stemmed from personal tragedies she has suffered, including the sudden death of a close friend when she was younger.
Richard, who has two daughters aged seven and 11 from a previous marriage, was desperate to ease Laura’s pain — then they remembered a TV documentary in which a British woman, Rebecca Smith, won a competition to clone her dachshund, Winnie.
Cells were taken from Winnie and used to create her DNA double. The method involved implanting extracted DNA from the dog’s cells into a ‘blank’ dog egg that had had its nucleus removed. The egg was given electric shocks to trigger cell division, then implanted in a surrogate dog.
The procedure had never been done with a dead animal’s cells before. But the clinic suggested it might just work if the cells were fresh enough — so Richard and Laura found themselves in a race against time to get samples from Dylan’s frozen corpse to the laboratory half a world away.
The second batch of cells created Shadow and Chance, who were born last Christmas and stayed in quarantine until last weekend, when they were finally cleared to fly to the UK
The first attempt failed but, undeterred, they defrosted Dylan, who had been placed in frozen storage until he could be buried. Richard found himself on two 20-hour return flights to Seoul in the space of a week, with doggy skin cells in his hand luggage. The first time, he had to do a lot of explaining to Customs officials.
But then, success. The second batch of cells created Shadow and Chance, who were born last Christmas and stayed in quarantine until last weekend, when they were finally cleared to fly to the UK. It was actually Richard’s idea to fly the surrogate mother dogs back, too.
‘When he saw them pregnant, he said: “Oh love, we have to bring them home, too”,’ says Laura.
The financial cost has been considerable. Thankfully, Richard, who is managing director of his own masonry company, says business is going well.
One of his recent projects was an £18m mansion, and he has worked on homes for professional footballers and billionaire retail bosses.
‘But we’re not millionaires by any means,’ he adds. ‘We don’t just have a spare £68,000 lying around — we have had to make sacrifices.’
The couple dipped into the £100,000 they had saved as a deposit on their house, and took out a larger mortgage. As well as the cost of cloning, they had to factor in more return flights for Laura, so she could visit the dogs.
‘Some men buy their wife or girlfriend a £60,000 diamond ring. I spent £60,000 on dogs,' Richard said
‘I wasn’t going to go that often but I cried so much when I returned the first time, Richard said I should go again,’ she says.
In the end, she visited South Korea five times to see the dogs in quarantine, twice accompanied by Richard. They reckon they have spent at least £4,000 on flights.
The cloning lab was able to put them up in a flat during their stays, but they had to pay £7,000 to fly the animals back to the UK in special crates costing £105 each.
There will be further costs including food (£70 a month), vets’ bills and insurance — which for dogs this special, could be costly.
Richard can barely hide his exasperation with Laura, but his devotion to her is clear.
The couple met — surprise, surprise — while out walking their dogs, seven years ago. And despite all the expense and stress, Richard insists he has been looking forward to meeting their new pets as much as Laura.
It’s not like Laura goes out and spends money on clothes or shopping. The only thing she spends money on is treats for the dogs. And if it’s helped her with what happened to Dylan...’
‘Getting the new dogs hasn’t healed the grief, just postponed it,’ Laura explains. ‘Seeing them every day won’t be like having my Dylan back, but at least when I’m crying they’ll be there to lick my tears.’
On the subject of her deceased pet, she is still extremely sensitive.
Dylan, meanwhile, hasn’t even been buried yet. His remains lie in a freezer in a nearby outbuilding to which, Laura admits, they have somehow lost the key.
‘We’re going to have to bury the whole freezer,’ she says.
Richard, who doted on Dylan too, points out an area halfway down to the garden, that they have earmarked for his grave: ‘I’m going to build a little archway and a memorial garden with a bench.’
‘Getting the new dogs hasn’t healed the grief, just postponed it,’ Laura explains. ‘Seeing them every day won’t be like having my Dylan (pictured) back, but at least when I’m crying they’ll be there to lick my tears’
Do their friends and family think they’re crazy?
‘I reckon,’ says Richard.
Laura gave up her dog-walking business in March to make the trips to Seoul, but insists she will be taking the new arrivals out for walks every morning and evening.
‘They’ve got space at the back of the house to run around and they can sit with us in the lounge in the evening. We’ll have at least one on the bed at bedtime, too.’
Richard’s daughters can’t wait to meet the new puppies.
I have to ask, though, whether Laura, as a 30-year-old childless woman, knows what will happen if the couple should eventually add the patter of human feet to their expanding family?
‘I’ve not got to the age of getting broody but Richard reckons we need to have them soon,’ says Laura. ‘I probably love my dogs so much because I don’t have children — and if I did, would I love my dogs less? I don’t know. But I’d probably have more sense of perspective.’
And one final question. The life expectancy of the average boxer dog is 12 years. When Shadow and Chance’s time comes, will their owners be cloning the clones?
‘Not unless we’ve won the Lottery,’ says Laura.