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Cloning kitty

A California company is selling cloning technology to pet owners. But opponents say this technology holds false promises.

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Another complaint about cloning is that animals born through chromatin transfer, the process Genetic Savings & Clone uses, are perceived to have much shorter life spans. "The theory that clones would age prematurely has not proven to be correct. However, the issue has developed a life of its own, and the perception, I would go so far as to say myth, about premature aging in clones is now quite widespread."

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What was once the stuff of science- fiction movies or reserved for sheep, pigs, cattle, or laboratory mice has already attracted hundreds of pet owners to pay GSC as much as $1,395 to have their cat's and dog's tissue frozen.

Although scientists say pet cloning will always be a niche market, there may be enough interest in America's 76 million households with pets to eventually turn this into a viable business.

But right now, GSC is not a money-making operation, says Carlson. It is all being supported by one billionaire investor named John Sperling who loved a dog named Missy.

Mr. Sperling, founder of the Apollo Group, a for-profit educational company, wanted to clone his adopted mutt because she had "exceptional characteristics." He ended up spending $3.7 million to fund the Missyplicity Project at Texas A&M University. The project eventually cloned the first cat, CC (short for Copy Cat) in December 2001. But cloning a dog proved much too difficult then because of the unique characteristics of the canine's physiology, but GSC promises they'll be able to offer the service next year.

After the researchers perfected the technique to produce cloned cats from cell tissue, Sperling and partner Lou Hawthore, now the CEO of GSC, branched out from the laboratory to offer clones commercially.

Now, part of Carlson's job is to dispel impressions of cloning born mostly of science fiction, such as films like Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Sixth Day." In that film, Mr. Schwarzenegger's character is secretly cloned, battles gun-toting human clones, and even visits a pet-cloning shop where he can order a clone of his family dog, which had suddenly died.

The scene from the movie is a fabulous exaggeration of what a company like GSC offers. There is no instant cloning while you wait. You can't tinker with your pet's DNA to make your cat or dog smaller, larger, fluffier, or less likely to shed.

But that fictitious pet store, called RePet, was selling the same promise the pet shop for clones is peddling - to regain an emotional connection to a pet.

For Jack Dorler, cloning is about bringing back at least part of his dog. The genetics, he said, made his Labrador named Her-She, whose life was cut short by illness, so spectacular. "There is something desirable about those genes.... It had some extremely marvelous characteristics."

As Mr. Dorler explains it, he owes it to his dog because she saved his life. While walking in their rural upstate New York town, Dorler, a diabetic, fell. He says that his dog alerted a neighbor who was able to get help.

Although he realizes he can't bring Her-She back, he can preserve and carry on her genes to create another generation of dogs, he says.

And if Dorler, who is 67, doesn't live to see his dog cloned, he's written instructions and set aside money in his will to have the dog cloned.

But "cloning pets sort of rests on a fundamental mistake," says Lawrence M. Hinman, director of the Values Institute and a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego. "It's trying to eliminate a real integral part of life," he says.

And that emotion is grieving, he says. "I just don't think they'll get what they want in the end."