Celebrity hairdresser Roberto Novo’s dog days of the coronavirus lockdown are a little less lonely now.
Novo, 61, dropped $50,000 to clone his beloved French bulldog Machito — and the new pup arrived just in time to keep him company during quarantine. In an unexpected turn of events, the replacement pooch — dubbed Machitwo — arrived the day the original DNA donor died.
“Machito was the son I never had [so] 14 years was not long enough. I needed him for at least 14 years more,” says the man whose hands have shaped the hairdos of Britney Spears, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell and Alec Baldwin, to name just a few.
“Machito was always there for me,” Novo tells SWNS. “I knew when he was gone I would suffer and cloning him was the best thing I ever did.”
At a time when hair professionals like him are temporarily out of business to stem the spread of COVID-19, the eccentric stylist appreciates the four-legged company. He also says that New Yorkers getting their daily exercise coo over Machitwo’s “soulful eyes” — shorty sports a stylish mask, btw — but only from a safe social distance.
“Machitwo is as cute as can be and people want to pet him — but because of coronavirus no one can touch him so they take a picture from 6 feet away,” Novo says. “People want to play with him but it is a very strange feeling because I can’t share my happiness with them even though everyone loves puppies. It does make it easier to stay inside because he is with me.”
The proud puppy daddy began the cloning process with Texas company ViaGen Pets in early 2019, when Machito’s health was beginning to decline. To clone a pet, the company requires at least two skin samples to collect the DNA, according to Melain Rodriguez, client services manager at ViaGen Pets. Most skin samples are taken from the belly or the inside of a pet’s leg.
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These samples are then packed in ice and sent to a laboratory, where they are placed in an incubator and cells start to grow. Within two to four weeks, there are millions of cells. The cells are harvested and placed in vials frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks.
In the next step of cloning, a donor egg is taken from another animal. The nucleus of the egg is removed so there is no DNA, and it is replaced with one of the millions of cells that have been grown in the laboratory.
“The egg and the cell are fused together in our patented cloning process,” Rodriguez says. “Essentially the egg is tricked into thinking it’s been fertilized by a sperm.” The embryo is then implanted into a surrogate, which gives birth to puppies genetically identical to the original dog.
After two failed gestations, Machitwo was born on Feb. 7 — the same day Machito crossed the rainbow bridge.
Novo admits he was devastated.
“Machito died and I was freaking out,” he says. “I suffered for one week because ViaGen didn’t want to contact me out of respect for Machito’s passing. My pain was so strong but when they told me that his clone had been born, I felt relief.”
Originally he planned to fly to Austin, Texas, to pick up his pup, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, ViaGen transported Machitwo to Syracuse, NY, on April 10.
“When I saw the puppy, I cried that something that belonged to Machito was in my hands,” Novo recalls tearfully. “It was out of this world. He does look exactly like Machito. He has the same little white spot on his forehead and on the back of his neck.”
Still, he says he never imagined becoming a pup papa in the middle of a global pandemic.
“I feel for women who have had a baby in this time and the grandparents that can’t see the baby,” he says. “For me, it’s just a little puppy — it’s the same feeling in a different way.”
Sure, people have told him he’s “crazy” for shelling out big bucks for a clone, but he compares it to other investment purchases: “This is for me. People will spend $50,000 on a car, I spent $50,000 on a dog that will give me unconditional love,” he says, defiantly.
Now, Novo says he wants to help unfortunate dogs who have not received the same level of paternal nurturing he has bestowed on his own babies.
“I want to open a dog shelter for puppies who have not been as lucky as Machito.”