Joline Gutierrez Krueger: Upfront: True Blue: A cloned dog and his human

·7 min read

Jul. 25—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you've seen Blue around town, you know him.

And if you know him, you love him.

That is, unless your heart is four times too small when it comes to dogs.

Blue, it should be noted, is four times too big for an average dog. And very little is average about this 166-pound half-Great Dane/half-Neapolitan mastiff.

Blue — whose full name, perhaps fittingly, is Blue Frankenstein — is a scientific miracle, one of the few cloned dogs in the country, perhaps the only one in New Mexico and likely the largest one in the world.

More important, he is also the best friend, constant companion and most beloved service animal of Sheryl Anderson of Albuquerque.

"He is the coolest dog in the world," she said. "Not really like a dog — very unique, a loving soul who just knows who needs him."

She needs him.

It's no exaggeration to say that Blue pulled Anderson through some of the darkest moments of her life. And she has pulled him through his.

On Wednesday, Anderson and many of Blue's favorite humans celebrated his 10th birthday at the Alien Brew Pub, one of several local restaurants where he's a regular. It was, in many ways, a celebration for both of them, for surviving through everything life has thrown at them.

Like any good guest of honor, the big boy padded from table to table to greet his fans, lingering longer at the table of a friend in poor health who still mustered the strength to attend the party.

As if Blue knew the effort made on his behalf, he rested his massive dark-gray head gently in the man's lap.

"This guy is a vet sniper and broke his neck, has cancer, can barely walk and just adores Blue because Blue makes time for him and pays attention to him even at Blue's dog party," Anderson said. "Blue went out of his way to hang with this gentleman."

Blue is the clone of his father, who for the sake of clarification we will refer to as Original Blue, one of the most beloved and big dogs Anderson was lucky enough to have. He was only 2 1/2 years old when he began limping. Vets suspected bone cancer in one leg and began chemotherapy. A second opinion suggested a massive infection. By then, the chemotherapy had wiped out the dog's immune system, and he died Feb. 14, 2008.

The death was so devastating to Anderson that she slipped into the dark world of drugs and bad dudes, quite a fall from grace for the granddaughter of longtime New Mexico political icon Clinton P. Anderson.

"I truly believe I never would have gotten into trouble if Blue had not died," she said. "I would have never put myself in danger like that."

She had learned then about genetic cloning and the possibility of creating a new Blue, a process using DNA preserved from the animal to be cloned that is injected into a dog egg stripped of its own DNA and then implanted into a surrogate mother.

Back then, the only lab doing the procedure with animals was in South Korea. Today, a few laboratories provide the procedure, including Texas-based ViaGen, which specializes in dog cloning. Prices now range from $37,500 to $50,000, or about half of what it cost when Blue was cloned.

Anderson had already begun the process to clone Original Blue when she became entangled in drug dealing and gunrunning, the latter of which led to her arrest and conviction on a federal charge of shipping or transporting a stolen firearm, for which she was sentenced Oct. 12, 2011, to 10 years in prison.

She was able to see her new Blue, born three months before her sentencing, for a only few hours.

Knowing she had Blue waiting for her on the outside helped give her motivation to get clean and find her way back from the darkness. She was released from prison in 2018 and retrieved Blue from friends. Within two hours, she said, she and Blue were as bonded as if she had never missed seven years of his life, as if he was Original Blue come back for her.

The two have been inseparable ever since.

"I've been around dogs my whole life, and all of them are special and I've loved them all, but Blue is different," she said. "I can't explain, but out of all the money I've had and blown, Blue makes me the happiest. More than a house or car."

As is true of many large dogs, Blue's life expectancy is shorter than that of some dogs, about 8 to 12 years. Big dogs die younger because they age more quickly, and they age more quickly because they grow faster. That can also lead to more health problems along the way, and Blue has battled a few of them, including arthritis and bladder issues that have required several catheterizations and surgeries.

Anderson is determined to provide the best care she can find for Blue so that he has the best chance of avoiding the same horrific and too-early demise that Original Blue suffered. She and Blue, as well as her other big dog, Tuco, Blue's grandson, frequently travel for medical care and water therapy at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, where Blue is a popular patient known for his gentle nature and his drive to keep going.

"I think he gives people love and hope, and also people know what he means to me," she said. "The different veterinary hospitals know what he has gone through. They love his fighting attitude."

And yes, she knows all about the controversy over cloning. The Humane Society of the United States believes cloning treats animals as commodities instead of living creatures. PETA questions how many shelter animals could find homes were it not for cloned animals.

ViaGen has responded to such criticism by pointing out that their animals are "treated with the highest levels of care, nutrition and respect" and that the high cost of cloning makes such pets rare and without significant impact on the number of shelter pet adoptions.

Blue has certainly not been treated as a commodity, Anderson said. He leads the best dog's life, showered with affection, with a large backyard, healthy food and huge dog beds. He even has his own Facebook page, under "Blue Frankenstein II," with more than 500 followers, and is often recognized everywhere he goes.

For his birthday, he received enough toys and treats and cards to cover a couch.

"Oh, my God, he banked," Anderson said.

Having Blue has been her lifesaver and her greatest joy, but she does not anticipate cloning Blue or using the remaining DNA samples still in storage from Original Blue.

"I love Blue more than anything, but I don't think a dog will ever be the center of my life again as much as he is," said Anderson, 58.

That Blue has reached the ripe old age of 10 is something to celebrate. But she knows that there might not be an 11. The dark gray of Blue's big mushy face is more gray than dark these days. But because of his treatments, he is still spry for an old boy.

And he is still just as full of love as he ever was, Anderson said.

That love is not just for her but for everybody he meets, for life, as natural and as real as anything.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

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