Marley the Labrador retriever was always the dog dictionary definition of a true companion.
David Tschirhart got the dog as a puppy, and as the little pooch turned into an older adult canine, Marley saw Tschirhart through many of life’s exciting and overwhelming chapters: graduation, moving cross country, marriage.
“He made many moves with my wife Alicia and I. He was always aware and adaptable. He learned to live in a tiny Manhattan apartment,” Tschirhart, an attorney in San Diego, California, told PEOPLE.
Marley’s most amazing and heroic moment of awareness came in 2014, when he was 12 years old and towards the end of his life.
It started when Tschirhart, his wife Alicia — four months pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time — and Marley all decided to go on hike to the top of San Diego’s Battle Mountain. About a quarter mile into their hike, through terrain that was more rugged and steep than expected, Alicia went off the path to find a walking stick to use for the rest of the hike.
“I had Marley on a leash,” Tschirhart recalled. “All of the sudden Marley darted out in front of me and started clawing the ground where Alicia was reaching out her hand.”
Confused at first about what Marley was reacting to, Alicia and Tschirhart looked down and realized that there was a coiled rattlesnake inches from Alicia’s hand. Luckily, upon Marley’s intrusion, the snake rapidly slithered away from the group.
“We were in shock. Neither of us had seen the snake at first.” Tschirhart said. “We were on a hill, with no people around, far from home, and Alicia was pregnant — it could’ve been disastrous.”
The owner added it wasn’t until he and Alicia, also an attorney, arrived home that they both realized what Marley had really done.
“We got pretty emotional when we got home. We realized the situation could’ve been deadly for my wife and the baby. Marley had really saved us,” he said.
A few months later, thanks in part to Marley’s heroics, the Tschirharts welcomed their first child, a girl name Madeleine. Unfortunately, shortly after Madeleine, now 5, was born, Marley was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.
Before Marley died, Tschirhart learned about ViaGen Pets & Equine, a company that will preserve your pet’s cells and clone a beloved furry friend.
“I felt like Marley was a huge part of our lives and had been such a hero at the end, and for as special as he was, we wanted to keep that connection,” Marley’s dog dad said of the family’s decision to think about cloning Marley. “So we had ViaGen store the cells in hopes that one day we could bring Marley back into our lives.”
“Marley was passing away over Thanksgiving, which made me worry about the logistics of preserving his cells,” he added. “ViaGen was just amazing. They made sure everything happened on track and we got a good sample. We were able to say goodbye to Marley knowing he was preserved.”
After a few years passed and the Tschirharts welcomed another daughter, Collette, now 3, the family decided it was the right time to clone Marley and bring a copy of their brave dog into their lives. The Tschirharts waited to clone Marley until their family was stable, and they knew that Marley’s clone was going to be their next child for some time.
“Being able to bring Marley’s presence back to the kids that he saved is very special for us, and I know the kids are excited about all of that. We have told them the stories about what happened with Marley before,” Tschirhart said, adding that he also waited to clone Marley so his children would be at an age where they could participate and enjoy raising a dog too.
“I wanted to see the joy they feel, that is something I didn’t get to experience with Marley.”
The first glimpse of that joy occurred in Dec. 7, when Marley’s clone, Ziggy, was delivered to the Tschirharts.
According to Tschirhart, the girls fell for the puppy instantly.
“They love having a dog that is theirs,” he said.
Tschirhart and Alicia have also enjoyed their first few months with Ziggy, both because of the joy any puppy brings and because, even at a few weeks old, Ziggy reminds them so much of Marley
The owners say the dog has the same markings on his ears, the same set to his eyes, the same gentleness around children as Marley. These are similarities that allow the couple to fondly remember their hero dog every day, while also celebrating having a new puppy in the house.
“It’s a chance for our whole family to remember Marley and also make new memories,” Tschirhart said.
Tschirhart and his family are looking forward to a summer full of trips with Ziggy, especially weekend visits to the local dog beaches, which was one of Marley’s favorite activities.
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