Woman clones late daughter's dog to keep her memory alive

- As Monnie Must looks back at the photos that adorn her walls of her Sylvan Lake home, the images of her four daughters mean more to her now than ever. It has been nearly 11 years since she lost her oldest daughter Miya to suicide.

"I was terrified when Miya died no one would know anything about her, and she was such a huge personality, she was such a wow person," Monnie said.

As a master photographer who owns the well-known studio, Naturally Photography, Monnie focused on her work, her family and Miya's dogs, Henley and Billy. But grief and anxiety took over as she approached the 10 year anniversary of Miya's death.

"Billy was her soul and the thought of losing her was more than I could possibly bear," she said.

One of Miya's dogs, Henley, had recently passed away. And her daughter's black lab, Billy, was aging, about to turn 14. One day as Monnie was driving, the idea came to her.

"I thought, I am going to clone her," Monnie said. "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."

Monnie began researching what it would take to clone Billy.

"We know about Dolly the sheep. So when I started researching this, I figured I am going to South Korea," she said.

But she found a better option based in Texas, a company called Viagen Pets. By simply taking two vials of tissue from Billy, scientists were able to create an embryo with Billy's exact DNA. 

"They said the dog is implanted in a surrogate, this is out of Rochester in New York in a lab, and they said we are going to do an ultrasound Oct. 11 to make sure there is a heartbeat. October 11 was Miya's birthday. It's like, really? Of all the dates?"

Soon Billy's genetic twin Gunni, as she is known, was born.

"At eight weeks we could pick her up," she said. "I flew to Rochester, New York, I brought her to the airport and there was like an immediate bond between us this dog. I just adore this dog."

Gunni is a genetic twin of Billy, just born at a later date. And at eight months old, whether it is nature or nurture, Monnie says the dog's personalities are the same as well.

"Billy was kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog - and Gunni is kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog and she is smart," Monnie said. "So all I can see so far."

Cloning isn't cheap. The bill came to about $50,000.

"I mean, it is an investment. It is not for everyone, but it's for me," she said.

After Gunni came into her life, her anxiety following her the 10-year mark of her daughter's death went away.

"You are not in that position you can't walk in someone's shoes," Monnie said. "I hope no one else has to walk in those shoes.” 

And although Monnie admits after losing a child she will never feel whole again, but having Billy and now Gunni, has allowed her to feel joy once again.

"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."

It isn't just about preserving a lost dog, it is preserving a piece of her lost daughter.

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