A California company is selling cloning technology to pet owners. But opponents say this technology holds false promises.
Three years after scientists in a Texas laboratory successfully cloned the first house cat, a company in California is now selling that same technology to pet owners who want a carbon copy of their cat or dog.Skip to next paragraph
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For $50,000 Genetics Savings & Clone can take a cat's DNA and create an exact genetic duplicate. They hope to do the same with a dog next year. So far they have five clients who soon will be among the first owners of the newest type of kitten: a clone.
GSC, the first company to commercially offer pet cloning, has already successfully cloned three cats of its own. Kittens named Tabouli and Baba Ganoush made their debut last month at a Manhattan cat show. Its third clone, Peaches, appeared last weekend at the Cat Fanciers' Association Cat Show in Houston.
While delighting some of the finickiest feline fanciers, the introduction of cloned pets has raised the hackles of some animal welfare groups. Many wonder: Is this just weird science for the rich or a glimpse into the future of America's pet industry?
But what it means for the moment is that a few pet owners will be able to transfer the genetic characteristics of their pet into a new cat or dog. They aren't guaranteed an exact copy but something almost indistinguishable from the original pet with the same traits as their cell donors.
That's the promise that led Carol Meltzer to have a tissue sample of her golden retriever named Lucky sent to GSC to be frozen in its liquid nitrogen "gene banks." The process cost about $1,200, she says.
Lucky's cells will be stored until the company begins offering dog cloning, estimated to cost in the low five figures, or until Ms. Meltzer says she's willing to spend the money to clone her dog, a faithful stray who lived with her for 14 years until he died two years ago.
"I totally loved my dog and I read about [cloning] and I had the money in the bank," says Meltzer. "I wanted that exact dog. His personality. I thought cloning would get that same dog back."
Meltzer realizes now that if Lucky is ever cloned, it won't be the same dog. But it was a purely emotional decision at the time of Lucky's death.
"People are attracted to their particular animal and this is a way for their animal to keep on living after their demise; it's a false promise, essentially," says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
"We hope that this is one commercial enterprise that fails," says Mr. Pacelle, whose group opposes all types of animal cloning and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the availability of commercial pet cloning.
"We don't need a new production scheme when there are plenty of healthy and adoptable pets," he says. "We've gotten along fine for thousands of years without tinkering with creating life, and this introduced all sorts of problems."
Those problems could range from health maladies resulting in the cloned pet's early death or other birth defects and shortened life spans, he says. Others say there are already too many homeless cats and dogs in shelters. Some wonder why anyone would want to spend so much money when most cats cost nothing.
But Ben Carlson, vice president of communications for GSC, says those issues have been exaggerated by cloning opponents. About 23 percent of all animals born through cloning do have cloning-related health problems. The company's website says, "Fortunately, this has not yet been the case in pet-cloning research. We're investing millions in developing embryo-assessment technology to ensure that each cloned embryo we transfer to a surrogate mother is normal, and will develop into a healthy cloned pet."