Swapping the old fur the new
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Swapping the old fur the new

An American retiree is preparing to clone his best friend — his dying dog

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
Swapping the old fur the new

Davis Hawn, a 56-year-old American retiree, has been with his dog Booster for almost a decade. Now that 10-year-old Booster is dying, however, Hawn is preparing to do something quite unconventional to preserve the memory of his beloved best friend: clone him.

Davis Hawn and Booster.

Hawn and his labrador retriever are used to going everywhere together, as Booster is also Hawn's service dog that has helped him battle PTSD.

"At night, I have dreams of a knife coming at me and I'm shaking all over. But the minute I see the dog on my bed, it calms me down," said Hawn. He added that Booster would also get his medicine and water, or turn on the lights for him when the nightmares hit.

Once, Hawn's depression got so bad that he came close to committing suicide and it was Booster who saved his life.

"The dog kept pulling me back to people. So, I made him a promise that I would never do it [suicide attempt] again. I would be around for him and I would share his story."

Coming close to a decade of friendship, Booster — who has survived cancer and Rocky Mountain spotted fever — is now old, frail and has a hard time getting to his feet. The whole situation is breaking Hawn's heart.

It is for this reason that Hawn now seeks solace in cloning in order to continue Booster's legacy. For years now, Hawn has been travelling the world with Booster on the money Hawn has made from his mobile home rental business. In Thailand, a few years ago, the two visited the Father Ray Foundation that cares for underprivileged children, as well as the Camillian Social Centre which cares for children with HIV.

Hawn recounted a story of a 90-year-old blind woman he met at Father Ray Foundation. The lady, a dog lover, immediately got on the back of a motorcycle and went to get toys for Booster upon hearing that he would be visiting. When the two eventually met, Booster put his head on the lady's lap and when she petted him, Hawn began to cry.

"It was a warm relationship," said Hawn with a smile.

When Hawn made his next stop at the Camillian Social Centre, many of the children were initially afraid of the big 45kg dog. After a while, however, the children started to warm to him. Hawn remembers that many of them hugged both Booster and Hawn.

"I hugged more children that day than I've ever hugged in my entire life," recalled Hawn. "The children hugged the dog because they knew the dog loved them with no condition. That's what the dog is. It's unconditional love. I learned more about unconditional love from Booster [than from anyone]."

Inspired by Booster, Hawn also went back to college at the age of 52 to get his master's degree at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in California. He is now an avid dog trainer and has a total of seven canines under his care.

It is fair to say that Booster has changed Hawn's life. In fact, Hawn still relies heavily on his canine companion to maintain his psychological wellbeing. It is for this reason that Hawn feels he owes his dog and wants to ensure a piece of Booster lives on.

After extensive research into where to take Booster for the cloning operation, Hawn decided on Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, an animal cloning facility in Seoul, South Korea. He had an opportunity to visit the South Korean facility early last month and even got to witness an operation.

"They had the surrogate mother dog cut and the doctor took out the ovary and inserted an egg into the ovary, then [it was placed] back in and stitched up," recounted Hawn.

"Everybody thinks of cloning as a negative thing. For me, it is life sustaining. It's completely the opposite. Cloning is everything that is good and the world needs to know," Hawn insisted, seemingly unfazed by the controversy and ethical debates that surround the procedure.

"Booster and I, we're always together. When he is gone, it will change my life forever," said Hawn with tears in his eyes. "It's killing me faster [than it's killing the dog]. But what holds me in there is the fascination of the ability to clone him. What is a clone? Knowing that a piece of my Booster would go forward gives me the desire to get out of bed each morning."

Getting a cloned dog guarantees Hawn will get a dog that looks almost identical to Booster. As for its personality, Hawn is hoping the new dog — to be named Boosted — will carry on some of his old friend's traits.

The process at Sooam Biotech is set to happen in January and the facility has informed Hawn that he would have Boosted in time for his birthday in March.

The cost of cloning a dog is over $100,000 (3.3 million baht), and it comes with a long waiting list. Although it may seem ridiculous that someone would pay such a high amount for a single dog, to Hawn, if it means keeping a piece of Booster and being able to continue sharing him with the world, it is an amount he is more than willing to pay.

"I wouldn't be alive today if not for the dog," said Hawn, "For my mental well-being, there's no finer investment."

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