by Barb Goffman
Cloning is one of those things people joke about. Or maybe just I do. On busy days, I wish I had a clone to order around. Clone, do the laundry. Clone, edit that book. Clone, cook something. Anything!
Alas, the reality is there is no human cloning. And even if there were, an actual clone would not be like a robot you could order around to do chores. A clone is, essentially, an identical twin, simply born at a later date. The twins should look the same, but they’d have separate minds and thus separate personalities.
But even knowing all this, the idea of cloning appeals–especially when facing loss in the face.
Before my prior dog, Scout, got old, I made him promise he’d live forever. Of course he couldn’t live up to that promise. But he’s lived on in my heart and memories during the past four years. And if I’d had the money to spare, I could have had him live on–sort of–in my house through … you guessed it … cloning. Yep, dog and cat cloning is here.
It appears there are several companies that offer this service. I recently read about one in Texas, Viagen Pets, that will clone your dog for $50,000 and your cat for $25,000. How does it work? According to Viagen Pets’s website, before (or very soon after) your dog or cat dies, you send a skin tissue sample to them so they can freeze/preserve the animal’s DNA. When you’re ready for your new pet, they take a donor egg, remove its genetic material, and replace it with that of your beloved pet’s. After that, an embryo is produced and then implanted in a surrogate animal. And you wait for your pet’s identical twin to be born.
According to their website, Viagen Pets has cloned thousands of animals. They say that each cloned puppy or kitten will share many attributes with its twin, often including intelligence, temperament, and appearance. It’s interesting that appearance is on the “often including” list because I would think a cloned puppy or kitten would always look exactly like the original (as a puppy or kitten) because they are supposed to be identical twins. But I’m not a scientist, so perhaps I’m missing something.
It’s interesting, too, that the company says the clones are often similar in intelligence and temperament. I would think these attributes would vary from dog to dog. I would be interested in seeing study results on cloned animals to see how often the clones really are similar, as well as how similar, to the originals. I’d expect a clone of Scout would look like him as a puppy, but since the clone would be his own dog, with his own experiences and own mind, there’s no reason to think he’d act like Scout as he grew. But it’s nice to dream that he would.
And that is what is likely behind the growth of this market. The desire to essentially keep the essence of the pet you love–his/her personality–alive. I understand Viagen Pets has a waiting list of people who probably have similar dreams.
Of course, any discussion of cloning pets should address the potential inherent problems. Any owners who’d expect an exact duplicate of their beloved pets would bound to be disappointed, which wouldn’t be fair to the clone. And is it right for someone to bring another animal into the world when you can find one of the same breed, likely looking nearly the same as your own beloved pet, through your local shelter or a breed rescue? An animal that’s already alive and needs a home? (Of course, that question would apply to any animal purchased through a breeder.)
And then there are the logistics of the process to consider. The cloning company says they get a donor egg. How? Does this involve surgery on a female dog? How hard on the dog is such a surgery? If it’s quite invasive (and I don’t know if it is), is it right to use a dog in that manner? It’s not like the dog is an adult human who can consent. And once the embryo is created, it’s implanted in a surrogate dog. How invasive a procedure does the dog have to undergo to become impregnated? (All these questions also apply to the donor cat and surrogate cat, who may or may not be the same cat.)
For those of you thinking it, I realize that all these questions could be asked of any owner who chooses to breed his or her pet. The dog or cat doesn’t ask to become a parent, to be used for breeding purposes. I’m not saying it’s wrong (or right) to do these things, ranging from breeding your dog to having your dog used as an egg donor or as a surrogate mother. I’m just thinking on the page. As moral questions, there aren’t any hard right or wrong answers. But the questions are worth considering.
So, what say you, dear reader? Would you clone your pet if you could afford it? And what do you think of the issues involved with cloning (and breeding)?