Two weeks passed before I could say the words "Andy died" without choking up, much less discuss the details, much less write about losing him. But as difficult as it was to let go of the dog who'd shared my life for almost 16 years, if you'd asked me a month ago -- when the grief was knife-sharp -- if I'd choose to have him cloned, my answer would have been unequivocal.
I'd have said, "absolutely not."
To me, the idea that animals can be replicated like fashion accessories is an insult to the uniqueness of every pet ever loved.
A clone wouldn't really be Andy. I don't care if his DNA could have been used to create a dog who looks just like he did, a genetic copy along the lines of the adorable calico kitten named "cc" (for copy cat, we were told) that was recently heralded as a major step forward in the effort to produce clones of people's pets.
I understand the desire of scientists to accomplish those things that have never been done before, to expand our knowledge and our possibilities. I don't understand why anyone who has ever loved a pet would want a genetic copy of that animal. Which means I surely don't understand why an animal-lover with more money than most of us will ever see is driving this research, right down to its cute name -- The Missyplicity Project, after a dog named Missy, very much loved and one day, to be cloned.
You could hand me a puppy tomorrow marked just like Andy, right down to the stripe of china blue that ran down the edge of one of his hazel-brown eyes. But it wouldn't be the same animal I first held a few hours after he was born in the late spring of 1986.
That puppy squirmed in protest when I took him away from his mother's side. For all of his life, Andy hated to miss meals -- and then sighed and settled down in my hands when I massaged his jawline with the tip of my thumb.
I did the same thing in the moments before he died and got the same reaction. As his good little heart was quickly giving out and the veterinarian prepared the last injection, I rubbed his jawline and felt him relax trustingly in my arms. A few minutes later, he was gone. He had been a vital, opinionated, sometimes sweet and sometimes bratty presence in my life for all those years between the first time I touched him and the last, but I knew it was time to respect the dog he was and let him go.
A clone of Andy wouldn't be the same because little in the Repeat Andy's life would be the same. My life is different, as are many of my opinions, some of my friends, all of my other pets, and certainly my views of dog training and canine nutrition.
Instead of cloning Andy, I'd rather honor his memory by following the example of those who give to help other animals. Like Cheryl and Dave Duffield, who put millions into the funding of the Alameda, Calif.-based Maddie's Fund, an organization that's reducing the number of unwanted pets. While I don't have millions to contribute, I am working on a project in Andy's memory that will help other pets and the people who love them. For me, that's the best way to keep what's important about him alive, always.
Andy died. More than a month later it's still achingly difficult to say, but it's getting a little easier every day. Goodbyes are oh-so-hard, but I know I never want to say hello to a dog who looks like Andy, but isn't.
PETS ON THE WEB
Everyone is entitled to choose how to honor a pet and how to spend money. You can see for yourself how two very rich families decided to honor two much-loved dogs by visiting the Web sites of the organizations they founded. The Missyplicity Project (www.missyplicity.com) give details on pet cloning, including links to a company that will allow you to store your pet's genetic material for future cloning. Maddie's Fund (www.maddiesfund.org) offers information on the projects it has funded in the quest to create a "no-kill nation."
Trying to keep your cats from bothering your houseplants? Start by offering them their own plants to nibble on -- such as tender shoots of rye grass -- and then work to make the other plants less appealing. Hang up those plants you can, and cover the soil of those you can't with sharp decorative rocks to discourage digging. You can make the leaves icky-tasting by coating them with something your cat finds disagreeable. Cat-discouragers include Bitter Apple, available at any pet-supply store, or Tabasco sauce.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have a 6-month-old soft-coated wheaten terrier and we use a crate to house him in the kitchen. At night he sleeps upstairs in my son's room. Bringing this crate up and down all the time is a hassle. Can we get another crate and leave one upstairs and one down? Or will this confuse the dog? -- R.O., via e-mail
A: Sure, you can add a second crate upstairs. For ease of use, you might make the upstairs crate one of the new mesh varieties. These are not made for containing an unsupervised dog or one who's hell-bent on escaping. But for a half-grown pup who knows that the nighttime crate is for sleeping, a fabric-covered crate might be a lightweight solution. One such brand is Cabana Crates, and you can check them out on the Internet at www.doggonegood.com.
Before you invest further, however, think about the long-term goals for this pup. Crates are one of the best-ever innovations in training when it comes to house-training puppies and dogs and working through destructive behavior. They're also essential safety equipment for travel and for providing a pet with temporary housing during an emergency. But as good as crates can be, they can also be overused.
Ask yourself if you're relying on the crate more to contain your pup rather than train him. A 6-month-old puppy should be pretty well house-trained; he ought to be capable of handling some supervised free time in the home. If your pup is constantly being crated, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist who can help wean you off over-reliance on the crate. The result will be a dog who can be trusted to be a well-mannered member of the family -- without restraint.
Q: I have a problem with my shepherd mix's nails. They are very long and sharp, and I've gotten some bad scratches from her habit of jumping up on me. The "trim a little each month" system doesn't take care of it quickly enough, nor does walking or running her on hard surfaces. Can dogs have their claws removed like cats can? Or could a vet cut her nails drastically after giving her a tranquilizer? -- K.S., via e-mail
A: While a dog's claws could in theory be surgically removed, it's not commonly done, and you'd have a difficult time finding a veterinarian who'd agree to such a thing.
Instead, get a trainer's help in teaching your dog to keep her feet on the ground, and a veterinarian's in getting her nails to a reasonable length that you can then maintain. You're on track with the idea of getting your veterinarian to cut the nails all the way back while your dog is sedated. This will give you a fresh start to the problem, so trimming a little off each week thereafter will keep the nails short.
Don't make nail-trim time a battle. Have your veterinarian demonstrate proper technique so you don't hurt your dog. Start slowly and build up your pet's tolerance through treats and praise. You may be able to do little more initially than tap the trimmers on your dog's nail, and that's fine. It took me months to get my dog Benjamin to tolerate nail-trims without fuss, but now he takes it in stride because he knows he gets praise and treats when we're done.
Some dogs do better having their nails ground down, rather than cut. You can buy an appliance designed to grind dog nails, or use a rotary tool such as the Dremel to do the same thing. The advantage to grinding is that you won't go too far -- as soon as you see the quick, you stop. As with using a nail-trimming, make sure you introduce a grinder slowly and gradually, with lots of praise and treats along the way.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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