There was just something about Melvin.
For Lafayette veterinarian Phillip Dupont, his dog was more than man’s best friend — the canine was so special that when it became affordable, Dupont had him cloned.
Yes, he cloned his dog, a mixture of Catahoula and Doberman.
Meet Ken Gordon and Henry Fontenot, respectively named after Dupont’s uncle — his father’s stepbrother — and Dupont’s friend, whom he met years prior while delivering a calf.
Side by side, the clones are majestic pets.
“They weigh 150 pounds together, or 149½ pounds,” said Dupont’s wife, Paula Dupont, the office manager at Dupont Veterinary Clinic.
That’s some 75 pounds apiece.
Ken and Henry have come to immortalize Melvin, whose declining health resulted in Phillip Dupont having to put his beloved dog down a year ago, on Aug. 24.
Melvin was nearly 12 at the time, but his legacy lives on in his clones — his characteristics and traits are now Ken and Henry’s characteristics and traits.
Those first two years were somewhat rough handling two puppies, even with Melvin still alive for their first year.
“They’re maturing into the dog Melvin was,” Paula Dupont said.
And more and more, the Duponts find themselves calling the dogs Melvin.
Just like Melvin, Ken and Henry have become fixtures at the veterinary clinic on Eraste Landry Road. If they are not visible, there are immediate inquiries on their whereabouts.
“I used to tell people that Melvin was the office greeter — my office manager,” Paula Dupont said. “Ken’s kind of taken his place.”
And Henry has now followed suit.
“Henry has stepped up and is also greeting people,” she said. “Now they have two dogs meeting people — standing up and putting their paws on my desk.”
And barking their hellos.
Perhaps Ken was the first to greet people because he was the first to arrive in this world nearly two years ago.
“They did a C-section and found Henry, so Ken actually is a day older,” Phillip Dupont said.
The easiest way to tell the dogs apart is by their collars. Ken wears a red collar. Henry has a black one.
While there may be differences in the clones — for instance, Ken looks smaller — the Duponts are sometimes stumped as to which dog is which.
Each has a black claw on their left front paw. Yet other parts are mirrored images of each other, like the white fur on their legs: one sporting white on a left leg and the other white on a right leg.
Coloring may differ in clones, Phillip Dupont says, but otherwise, their DNA is exactly the same.
The Duponts always had talked about cloning Melvin. Phillip Dupont considered him the smartest dog he had ever known. There was the time he had lost his keys and Melvin kept looking down at his paw. Finally he and his friend realized Melvin had been trying to tell them the keys were by his paw.
Not only was he was easy-going with the Duponts, but everybody else liked Melvin, too.
The Duponts said they never had a problem finding a babysitter for him.
That’s why a TV show on the Discovery Channel about cloning pets caught their attention.
They searched online for information on HBion, the South Korean company that has attracted international media attention in recent years for its dog cloning service.
They emailed the company, and $100,000 later, the Duponts were on their way to cloning Melvin.
“I thought it was a good idea,” Phillip Dupont said. “It wasn’t going to hurt Melvin.”
According to the Duponts, the process involved the local veterinarian taking a small biopsy, no bigger than a centimeter, to extract cells from Melvin.
The nucleus from a single egg cell from a female dog donor was replaced with the nucleus from Melvin’s single cell.
Paula Dupont said an electrical charge “tricks it into thinking it’s been fertilized.”
Once the cells replicate, the formed embryo is then implanted in a female surrogate dog.
The first attempt was not successful: T he puppies lived only for a short time.
Then came Ken and Henry.
The Duponts were more than pleased with the experience.
As for the HBion representatives, Phillip Dupont said, “They were very nice people, very honorable people. Whatever they said, they went through with it.”
The couple enjoys serving now as mentors for other families who have called from across the globe, wanting to clone their pets.
Phillip Dupont says people who have met Melvin tell them: “I know why you did it.”