When famed conductor Yoel Levi returned from his many trips around the world, Ozzy was always there.
For Ozzy, the German shepherd who was Levi’s devoted companion for almost 15 years, Levi was more than just the distinguished performer with many of the world’s greatest orchestras. In the eyes of his four-footed friend, the former longtime music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was truly the world’s greatest star.
“Every time I came back, it was like an earthquake shaking. I mean, the crying and the kissing and the jumping. It was incredible.”
When Levi was only 4, he had had the same kind of a bond in Israel, where he grew up, with the family dog, another German shepherd named Wolf. Suddenly one day the dog disappeared. Now after all those years, it was like that animal had reappeared, the same spirit in a new body.
Ozzy became, for him, not just a cherished loving family but a deeply intuitive soul mate.
“He was attached to me in a way that no other dog was attached to me. He was not only my best friend, he could read my soul. He shared everything with me.”
When Ozzy was 5, the family vet, sensing their special relationship, suggested that they take a sperm sample and preserve it cryogenically. Perhaps one day, the vet suggested, veterinary science might be able to recreate a dog with some of the almost mystical qualities Levi experienced with the animal.
About a dozen years later, several years after the dog died, Levi called a friend, Carmen Battaglia, who lives in Alpharetta and is a top breeder of German shepherds. Battaglia, a board member of the American Kennel Club, is deeply involved in the AKC’s breeding program. He agreed to coordinate the costly process of creating a new puppy out of the long-frozen specimen.
According to Battaglia, only about 2 percent of the 39,000 litters of AKC-registered German shepherds last year were born this way. Part of the reason, he said, is that its delicate process of artificial insemination depends on not just the skill of the veterinarian, but on good luck, as well.
“Dogs have one of the most fragile reproductive systems in nature. Timing is critical. You can’t go too fast, but you have only 72 hours to produce a success. When you implant the fertilized egg in the dog, the placement has to be very precise.”
In the last 15 years, veterinary science has come a long way in developing breeding programs that take advantage of new techniques and a greater knowledge of the genetics. In 2005, a team in South Korea created an exact clone of an Afghan hound that lived to be 10 years old.
Today, there are commercial services in South Korea and in Texas that will create a biological copy of a dog for $50,000.
Barbra Streisand, the famed entertainer, publicly acknowledged three years ago that she had two clones created from the DNA of Sammie, a pet that she had for 14 years.
Later she wrote in The New York Times that she did it to “keep her with me in some way. It was easier to let Sammie go if I knew I could keep part of her alive, something that came from her DNA.”
But the benefits of all these recent advances is not just confined to pets. Battaglia uses sophisticated databases that list the genetic characteristics of each AKC German shepherd to help breed better working dogs.
These dogs are used in the military and contribute to national security. They also participate in search and rescue operations such as the one following the partial collapse of the condominium building in Surfside, Fla.
According to Battaglia, the goal is a “super” dog.
“These super German shepherds are 50 percent smarter, have a lower resting heartbeat that gives them greater tolerance for stress, which makes them more trainable and more able to do difficult jobs, and they are more resistant to disease.”
From all these new technological advances, Levi now has a 4-month-old puppy named Leo that connects him to the long and mysterious relationship that he has had to German Shepherds since his childhood.
“Leo is really like the reincarnation of his father in almost every aspect, and that’s what’s amazing, absolutely amazing, especially his behavior. When I take out my suitcase and begin packing for one of my trips, Leo jumps into the middle of it. He wants me to take him along.”
For Levi, that’s a real super dog.