Man's Best Friend Forever

Cloning dogs for love and profit

"Are they all related?" a woman asks as she watches three puppies romp around Eastwood Park, a little slice of doggy heaven in Mill Valley, California. One of the pups, Mira, is notably larger than the other two, Chingu and Sarang, but they all share similar markings: white snouts and chests, darker fur on their backs and crowns.

"They're clones," Lou Hawthorne replies. The woman smiles as if Hawthorne's joking, but he's telling the truth; all three puppies were created at a commercial animal laboratory in Korea using tissue collected in the late 1990s from Missy, a beloved mixed breed that belonged to Hawthorne's mother and died in 2002. Part collie, part husky, part who-knowswhat, these rambunctious mutts are the most expensive pets on the planet, the end result of a 10-year project that has cost approximately $25 million. In May 2008, Hawthorne announced that his biotech firm, BioArts International, plans to offer five pet owners a chance to genetically Xerox their canine companions. Aspiring clone owners would participate in a series of online auctions, and the bidding would start at $100,000.

Not everyone was impressed. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) gave the disobedient bio-entrepreneur a stern swat in the form of a jointly issued report titled "Buyer Beware: Pet Cloning is NOT for Pet Lovers." Cloning foes characterize the practice as cruel, manipulative, and pointless, a domain of hucksters who exploit grieving pet widows and sell eternity by proxy through bad science and ostensibly immortal schnauzers.

"No one knows what goes on in these cloning labs," says Nina Mak, a research analyst at the AAVS. "No one knows how many animals are used and what happens to those animals. There's no assurance about the state of their welfare and their treatment and care. All of that happens without any oversight." Neil Trent, executive director of the Marin Humane Society, has called for "legislative intervention to regulate this dubious activity."

Is pet cloning really so strange and untenable? In addition to voicing concerns about animal welfare, those who oppose it take issue with its metaphorical implications. "This idea that you can take an animal and duplicate it whenever you want-it treats animals as objects that can be manufactured," says Mak.

But canine fabrication is not a new idea. There weren't any trendy "designer" hybrids like puggles or schnoodles on Noah's ark, nor even any certified purebreds like Boston terriers or French bulldogs. As their not-exactly-biblical names suggest, these dogs are modern inventions, painstakingly crafted by uncompromising artisans following detailed blueprints, a.k.a. "breed standards," drafted by 19th-century canine eugenicists. And our efforts to make dogs more serviceable, more aesthetically appealing, and more fun to be around are much older than that. For some 15,000 years now, man has been artificially shaping his best friend to serve human ends. In fact, it's their very malleability that makes dogs dogs. If it weren't so easy to retool them to exacting specifications, they'd still be wolves.

Cloning represents the next step in a process that's been going on since the late Paleolithic era, one that opens up new possibilities for pet lovers. "If you love golden retrievers, you can go to a conventional breeder and get a very similar set of genetics again," says Hawthorne. "But if you have a spayed or neutered mixed-breed animal, there's no other way to get that same configuration of genetics. You can guess and breed what you think to be the source breed, but you'll never get the same configuration."

In July four anonymous pet owners submitted winning bids in the BioArts clone auctions. The prices they paid ranged from $140,000 to $170,000. For that fee, Hawthorne says, they'll get a puppy that is guaranteed to have "a very high degree of physical resemblance" to their original pet. Cloning isn't doggy reincarnation, but Hawthorne says it's more than just similar markings. "I thought it was going to be about look," he says of his first clone, "and maybe someday behavioral similarity. But it's a much more visceral experience than that-the feel, the smell. When they first handed me Mira in Korea, you could see the look of genuine astonishment on my face."

As the AAVS suggests, there are aspects of cloning that are less camera-friendly. To clone a dog, you need multiple lab animals. Some serve as sources for ova, others are used as surrogates to carry the embryos that scientists create by enucleating an egg and fusing it with cells from the dog being cloned. All those animals, according to the Humane Society/AAVS anti-cloning report, are "subjected to painful hormone treatments and invasive surgeries."

Hawthorne, who says he and his associates will soon be publishing a paper detailing the advances they've made in "a major scientific journal," disputes that characterization, claiming that the procedures for ova flushing and embryo transfer take only five minutes and require an incision between a half-inch and an inch long. The animals are sedated during the process, he says, and the procedures are less invasive than a spay-a procedure the Humane Society and the AAVS endorse without protesting the pain involved. It takes approximately eight laboratory dogs to produce one clone; four supply theova, and four act as surrogates. "For every four embryo transfers we do, we get a clone," says Hawthorne. "And that rate is going up very quickly." BioArts has a provision in its contract with the cloning lab that requires the latter to either care for the canine egg donors and surrogates in perpetuity or put them up for adoption. In other words, euthanasia is not an option.

That's not to say Pixar is likely to set its next heart-warming animal pic in a pet cloning lab. But conventional breeding operations, be they high-volume puppy mills, semi-pro backyard setups, or even reputable licensed breeders, aren't default havens of cuddliness either. In all these scenarios, there are aspects most pet owners would probably prefer not to acknowledge: inhumane confinement, invasive artificial insemination techniques, Cesarean sections, birth defects, and high mortality rates.

What distinguishes cloning from these other approaches is the extremely high motivation of the buyers. They're not interested in a Chihuahua because they saw Paris Hilton's and now they want a cute little accessory that poops, too. They don't want a Dalmation because they think it would go well with the living room. Everyone's heard stories about pet breeders who make buyers jump through hoops like trained seals in an effort to prove they can provide a suitable home for the breeder's progeny, but Hawthorne's customers have already passed a test more stringent than even the most demanding breeder could devise: They've lived with a dog very much like the one they're purchasing. They loved it so much they're willing to spend six figures to obtain a facsimile.

"When you're talking about buying a specific breed, it's a class of characteristics that you're looking for," says AAVS's Nina Mak. "But you're not pinpointing an exact individual. You're not saying, ‘I know exactly what kind of animal I want. I'm going to pick it out and pay whatever it costs to do that.' "

Mak says this disapprovingly, and certainly it's self-indulgent to insist there's only one particular array of doggy DNA on the planet that can make you truly happy. But this a selfish age we live in, an age where we expect to share at least 29 levels of compatibility with potential spouses and at least double that many for creatures whose feces we have to lug around in little plastic bags.

Right now, alas, only the very rich can afford pet cloning. But imagine a future where cloning has become mainstream, where, thanks to successive generations of careful selection, every pet owner is so perfectly matched to his four-legged companion he can't stop exclaiming how much he loves it, how it's the bestestwestest puppy ever, yes it is, yes it is, and does it want another Milk Bone? For the rest of us, it's going to be hell on earth. For the dogs, it's going to be as if every single one of them were Leona Helmsley's favorite Maltese bitch.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Why would you clone your dog? It's like getting a new girlfriend: the point is to get a totally different one, not the same one. Change is good.

  • ||

    Cloning needs to be banned immediately because it is f'ed up, period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    Juanita makes a very good point that she supports with lots of evidence, and shows that she put a lot of thought into her statement.
    /sarcasm off

    Personally, I love cloning and while I find spending six figures on any tetrapod infantile and selfish, I have no right to stop them from what they are doing. It is kind of nice to see the Humane Society of the United States get put in it's place. Those people charge $1,000 if you declaw a cat you get from them. Which makes sure the cats aren't adopted and is somewhat counter-intuitive.

  • Another Phil||

    I think that some people can't wrap their minds around the idea that a cloned animal is not the same as the original even though it has the same DNA. I understand wanting a pet you loved back after they die, but it simply can't happen. You're better off going to a shelter and finding an adult dog that has the temperament you're looking for.

  • Another Phil||

    I should add that I see nothing wrong with people spending outrageous amounts of money on things that make them happy. However, in this case, I think they are wasting their money.

  • ||

    I should add that I see nothing wrong with people spending outrageous amounts of money on things that make them happy.

    The problem is that cloning is bringing their soul back from the dead and this is wrong because it is playing God.

  • ||

    Juanita
    "The problem is that cloning is bringing their soul back from the dead and this is wrong because it is playing God."

    Finally, a soul-ologist is among us. Tell me, do identical twins share a soul?

  • ||

    Finally, a soul-ologist is among us. Tell me, do identical twins share a soul?

    Twins don't have souls. They're evil.

  • ||

    I don't care what anybody says; I want to clone my dog. She is the most amazing animal you could ever imagine and I would like my next dog to be the same. She's only 7 years old and she probably has 5-7 years left, maybe more. This better be affordable in 5-7 years.

  • Another Phil||

    Twins don't have souls. They're evil.

    Only the evil twin is evil. Everyone knows that.

  • ||

    Seems no one knows the science behind identical twins.

    Ok, well God only allows 1 soul per DNA sequence, so only one gets the soul, the other gets a whicked goatee.

    In dog cloning, I fathom to guess that the cloned dog's will be sporting some facial hair, and bringing on the apocalypse.


    Anyway... I

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  • ||

    Cloning anything is disgusting, even if you have the money and want to waste it. Tens of thousands of pets are being killed because they aren't adopted. Many more are given up by people losing their homes. And now we see people giving up pets because they don't have the money to feed them. This is just another example of selfish rich people wasting money that might save the lives of other pets. But hey, if you've got the money then you're the center of the universe, aren't you?

  • ||

    "I don't care what anybody says; I want to clone my dog. She is the most amazing animal you could ever imagine and I would like my next dog to be the same. She's only 7 years old and she probably has 5-7 years left, maybe more. This better be affordable in 5-7 years."

    Or what? You're gonna hold your breath and turn blue if it isn't?

    /sarcasm off

    I have nothing against cloning, but really, it's so much cheaper to get a dog or cat from a shelter. You'll get a loving pet, and the knowledge that you saved it from being put to death because it was unwanted.

  • libertarian democrat||

    Hey Sharonsj,

    I agree. People who have kids are disgusting too. They could be adopting babies or older children, or waiting outside abortion clinics offering to adopt new babies so they don't have to be aborted.

    Selfish bastards!

    ____________________________________

    I can see why people might want to clone their dog. Same DNA means a similar start (although less so, because different experience prior to birth, which does matter). Add that to raising it like you raised your previous dog, and you are likely to get a dog that will match what you want closely, as long as you aren't expecting the same one.

  • Andy||

    "The problem is that cloning is bringing their soul back from the dead and this is wrong because it is playing God."

    So dogs have souls now? Interesting, many theological implications.

    I concur with the (shocking!) majority opinion on here, probably wouldn't do it myself (certainly not until the price goes WAY down) but don't care if others do.

    Just for fun, can we ask the candidates what they think? It would make for a fun debate topic.

  • St. V||

    I wouldn't mind having my cat cloned, as it would stand up on its hind legs like a person. Unfortunately it wasn't standing up when I smacked it with my car... NOT MY FAULT - totally thought it was my neighbors cat. Stupid non-standing uppidy next door neighbors cat...

    Anywho, I really don't care about animals - so long as we don't step into the realm of cloning humans. Creepy! Plus, I'm pretty sure Star Wars taught us all a lesson about how one can raise an army of clones...

  • ||

    Our dog, a Bassett-German Shepherd mix (how? how?) that we got from Petsmart via the Humane Society at age 2, was the perfect dog. He just died at the ripe old age of 16 1/2 and we miss him very much. He was gentle and affectionate around children, helped raise a litter of kittens and our second dog, and at the same time, almost went through the window barking fiercely at a stranger the one time it might have been necessary. When he was young, he was quite lively and much preferred chewing on our son's toys to anything bought for a dog. When he was older, it was like having faith and hope snoring on the carpet. Yes, we would have had him cloned if it was affordable. Mutts make the best dogs!

  • ||

    Just like a garden full of beautiful flowers, there is an endless choice of adorable, sweet companion animals to be loved. It is obsessive and wasteful to clone an animal when there is such a glut of healthy adoptable ones being put to death every day in shelters. I worry about people who are so stilted in their spirit as to live in a mental atmosphere of lack when it comes to love. Science becomes a negative influence when it stifles the natural, compassionate unfolding of life and the possiblity of experiencing the love of an animal with different (not better or worse) DNA.

  • surety bond||

    i would love to be with my friend forever. but that would be selfish because nobody can live forever.

  • tomas||

    sounds like a scene from the movie "6th day". we'll to wait what the animal rights activists have to say.

    l-arginine

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  • Gary||

    I don't believe it is a good thing to clone for any reason, I think it is opening a whole can of worms we are not ready for. We could do a great job with stem cell research and other cures if we would just start to focus on one thing at a time.. I am happy with my dog and wouldn't want another buddy, trixie, or buddy but I am using supplements to help keep them around longer.

  • Sarah Meister||

    This is ridiculous and cool. Dare I say, ridiculously cool.

    If I could clone my dog, I don't know how I'd feel. I'd have to stock on bully sticks, I know that!

    No, but seriously I think the life cycle of a dog is one of the great things about owning a pet, especially if you grow up with your dog. It teaches you a lot about effection, saying goodbye, and the reality of life. Ok, I may be getting too deep, but I hope you guys understand what I'm saying.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

  • crazydaisy||

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