Tag: CC the Cat

“Do You Really Want Several Animals To Die And Suffer So You Can Have Your Pet Cloned?”

The Washington Post has a story today about pet cloning, and thankfully it doesn’t sugar-coat the process.

It does take 10 paragraphs for the story to get to the negatives, but it offers a solid explanation of the cloning process before this quote by Columbia University bioethicist Robert Klitzman:

“People think, ‘Oh, I’ll just press a button and out will come Fido,’ but that’s just not the case. So you may love Fido, but do you really want several animals to die and suffer in order to have the one healthy Fido?”

That’s because even with the advancements made in the 21 years since CC the cat became the first of her kind to be cloned, the process still only has a 20 percent success rate. The other 80 percent of attempts end in still births, animals who die shortly after birth due to genetic defects, or animals who survive but suffer from flaws that make them “unsuitable” for the clients who are paying tens of thousands of dollars to clone their cats and dogs.

buddyx3
A terrifying prospect! (And a massive monthly turkey bill.)

As we’ve noted before, cloning doesn’t actually guarantee that you’ll get animal who looks like the departed pet. Fur color, length and coat patterns are all variable, and temperament is even more of a crapshoot thanks to the many variables in both nature and nurture.

Klitzman puts it in stark terms.

“I can either pay thousands of dollars to create a new pet that’s actually going to have a different history and personality,” he told the Post. “Or maybe I could adopt an animal that would otherwise be killed in a shelter. Those are things that ethically need to be considered.”

The Post’s article centers on Kelly Anderson and her cat, Belle. If the names sound familiar, that’s because we’ve written about them in earlier posts. Belle was cloned from Anderson’s beloved cat, Chai, and has her looks but not her disposition.

CC was famously different from Rainbow, the cat she was cloned from. While Rainbow had a Calico pattern with tabby stripes on her head, CC had tabby stripes on both her head and her sides. As the BBC noted in 2002, shortly after CC’s birth was announced, the cloned cat’s coat differed from her “mother’s” “because the pattern of colours on multicoloured animals is determined by events in the womb rather than by genes – a reminder that clones may be genetic copies of their parent but are never quite identical.”

Rainbow and CC
Rainbow, left, and her clone, CC, short for CopyCat.

John Mendola, a retired NYPD officer from Staten Island, features in a BBC story posted last week on the increasingly popular cloning option.

Mendola paid $50,000 to have his dog, Princess, cloned. It’s not clear how many unsuccessful attempts were involved — and Texas-based Viagen doesn’t reveal that information — but the successful litter produced two dogs who look like Princess, which Mendola named Princess Ariel and Princess Jasmine. (Dude really loves Disney animation, apparently.)

Viagen charges between $25,000 and $35,000 to clone cats, according to different press reports. Grieving pet parents who haven’t made up their minds can have their late pets’ DNA preserved with the company for $1,600. There’s a short window after death during which viable cells can be harvested, but once they’re stored, they can last years or even decades thanks to cryopreservation methods. In one case, a client decided to clone a dog after storing the DNA for 17 years, Viagen’s Melain Rodriguez told the Post.

Viagen doesn’t disclose figures, but the company said it’s cloning more animals — dogs, cats and horses — every year, and has cloned “hundreds” for clients so far.

Blake Russell, the company’s president, likened cloning to a cat or dog having a littermate separated by time.

“A cloned pet is, simply put, an identical genetic twin,” he said, “separated by years, decades, perhaps centuries.”

Animal welfare groups remain staunchly opposed, not only because of the suffering among cloning failures and surrogate mothers, but also because millions of unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized annually.

“Animals’ personalities, quirks, and very essence simply cannot be replicated,” PETA UK Director Elisa Allen told the BBC. “And when you consider that millions of wonderful, adoptable dogs and cats are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways after being abandoned, you realise that cloning adds to the homeless-animal overpopulation crisis.”

The Mixed Legacy of CC the Cloned Cat

Like Dolly the sheep, CC the cat’s arrival into this world was accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements, grave concerns about man’s hubris at playing God and warnings that human clones wouldn’t be far behind.

At the time cloning was revolutionary, something that was only supposed to exist in science fiction movies. Most people were uneasy with it, and much of the public debate centered around ethical concerns.

It was 2001: The world had just gotten over the Y2K scare, the Sept. 11 attacks and an abundance of turn-of-the-century, end-of-the-world prophesies. When people thought of cloning, they pictured tyrannosauruses rampaging through Jurassic Park and Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character lecturing the park’s proprietors on playing with the awesome power of nature.

CC passed away on March 4, 2020 at 18 years old — a full life by feline standards. The real consequences of her existence were less dramatic than predicted, but ultimately disappointing.

CC the Cat
CC with her surrogate mother, Annie. Credit: Texas A&M

Copy Cat’s birth didn’t herald an age of human cloning, but it did open the door to widespread animal cloning — including, as of last year, non-human primates — and eventually, to pet cloning.

A Mixed Legacy

Mark Westhusin, a scientist who was part of the team that successfully cloned CC, sees it as progress.

“CC’s passing makes me reflect on my own life as much as hers,” Westhusin said Wednesday. “Cloning now is becoming so common, but it was incredible when it was beginning. Our work with CC was an important seed to plant to keep the science and the ideas and imagination moving forward.”

CC lived as any typical house cat would, according to Shirley and Duane Kraemer, who adopted the famous feline. Duane Kraemer was also part of the research team involved in CC’s cloning.

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Kraemer with CC. Credit: The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)

When Barbra Streisand admitted she had her dog cloned in 2017, she responded to the backlash by writing an editorial in the New York Times, defending cloning as a way to get over the heartbreak of losing a pet.

There are now several genetics companies that offer pet-cloning services for people who want to bring their dear dogs and cats back to life.

“The human–animal bond is a pretty strong thing,” said Kerry Ryan, a veterinarian who works for pet cloning firm Viagen. “Our pets truly are a part of the family, and people want to have a piece of their pets around forever.”

Clones, But Not Your Real Pets

Except, of course, they really aren’t bringing cats and dogs back to life, and the animals won’t be around forever. Viagen’s customers get a genetic copy, but that doesn’t mean the clone will look or even act the same.

“It can be a genetically identical animal that can come out looking differently than the animal that you had,” veterinarian Katy Nelson told WTOP in 2018.

To the people who can afford dropping between $25,000 and $50,000 to clone their cats and dogs, it doesn’t seem to matter that both nature and nurture will ensure differences.

Pet cloning has also drawn the ire of animal welfare activists and major organizations like the Humane Society and SPCA, who point out that every cloned cat or dog means one less home for strays in shelters.

The Humane Society “opposes cloning of any animals for commercial purposes due to major animal welfare concerns,” HSUS’s Vicki Katrinak told National Geographic. “Companies that offer to clone pets profit off of distraught pet lovers by falsely promising a replica of a beloved pet. With millions of deserving dogs and cats in need of a home, pet cloning is completely unnecessary.”

False Starts, Gene Splicing and Clone Experimentation

Then there’s the truly dark side of cloning.

Each cloning attempt involves implanting eggs into several surrogate cat (or dog) moms, and no one wants to know what happens to the other clones, whether or not they make it to term. There’s no law requiring the companies to disclose the fate of those animals, so for now it remains a mystery.

Not all clones end up in loving homes, either. The lucky handful do, but others are birthed into the world to be experimented on, like a quintet of monkeys cloned by scientists in China.

Cloned Monkeys from China
Scientists edited the DNA of these monkeys to remove a gene that regulates sleep, resulting in depression and anxiety, among other problems. Three of the five monkeys pictured here are sucking their thumbs, which is a sign of stress when primate infants are taken from their mothers. Credit: Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai

The scientists who brought the monkeys to life also edited their genes, “cutting out a gene involved in regulating the sleep/wake cycle.” A 2019 story on Phys.org explained the consequences:

“The gene removal created multiple effects in edited monkeys, such as reduced sleep time, increased movement during the night, changed blood hormone levels, increased anxiety and depression, and some schizophrenia-like behaviors.”

Which was precisely the point: The research team wanted to study the unintended consequences of gene-editing on animals to learn more about how it could impact humans.

To be sure, none of this is Copy Cat’s fault.

The famous cat, who was delivered by a surrogate mother, lived for 18 years, a year or two more than the average house cat. She spent the remainder of her days as a typical house cat, albeit one whose vet visits and blood work were carefully pored over as geneticists confirmed she was as healthy as any other kitty.

But as science barrels forward and labs — many of them in countries with no regulations — are bringing cloned animals into this world, we should think about the consequences for animals and the human race.