Tag: pet cloning

“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.”

Influencers Are Cloning Their Famous Pets, Leaving Misery In Their Wake

I’d like to call your attention to a paragraph in this CNBC story about Instagram and TikTok influencers cloning their famous pets.

The story begins with an anecdote about Kelly Anderson, a woman from Austin, Texas, whose cat Chai had become Internet Famous:

The white and tan ragdoll had 85,000 followers on Anderson’s Instagram account @adogandacat when she died from complications following a surgery.

“I lost about 20,000 followers on Instagram after Chai passed,” she explained.

Anderson said she sent a sample of Chai’s DNA to the Texas-based pet cloning company ViaGen Pets shortly after she died. It took four years and $25,000 for Anderson to get a successful clone, and now she’s back in business with Chai’s identical genetic clone named Belle, who was born in 2021. 

Stop.

Read it again.

Now think about that last bit: Anderson sends the DNA sample to ViaGen, one of two commercial pet cloning operations in the world. (The other is in South Korea.) “It took four years” the article says “to get a successful clone.”

It doesn’t take four years to extract DNA from a viable sample. It doesn’t take four years to implant that DNA in an unfertilized egg, and it sure doesn’t take four years to bring a cloned cat to term.

So what happened in that interregnum between Anderson submitting Chai’s DNA and ViaGen producing “a successful clone”?

A damn horror show, that’s what.

The first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, was “successfully” brought to term and survived after birth in 2005, but only after the South Korean lab implanted more than 1,000 embryos into 123 surrogates.

Things have improved since then, if you can call it improvement: Success rates reached the high single digits by about 2010, and now the most successful labs produce “viable” clones about 20 percent of the time, according to geneticists.

What happens to the other animals?

The cloning industry likes to talk about its victories and present stories about grieving people reunited with their beloved cats and dogs, but cloning companies suddenly go mum when they’re asked about the animals who don’t make it to term, the kittens and puppies who are born with horrific defects, and the many animals put down because they don’t match the customers’ specifications. (Cloning companies don’t talk about the puppies and kittens who don’t physically match the clients’ late pets, but it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be reticent if the “wrong” babies had happy endings.)

Cloning results in “lots of abnormalities and genetic defects–and a significant percent of newborn animals die in the first few days or weeks of life,” geneticist Robert Lanza says.

Or as a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Science put it: “In all mammalian species where cloning has been successful, at best a few percent of nuclear transfer embryos develop to term, and of those, many die shortly after birth…. Even apparently healthy survivors may suffer from immune dysfunction or kidney or brain malformation, perhaps contributing to their death at later stages. Most frequently cloned animals that have survived to term are overgrown, a condition referred to as ‘large offspring syndrome.’”

Even when it appears a cloning has been successful, the cloned pets often succumb to ailments caused by congenital defects both in the short term and long term.

By 2008, just three years after the birth of Snuppy, “a total of 3,656 cloned embryos, more than 319 egg ‘donors,’ and 214 surrogate mothers ha[d] been used to produce just five cloned dogs and 11 cloned cats who were able to survive 30 days past birth,” the Humane Society and American Anti-Vivisection Society warned in a report about the trend.

The failed clones aren’t the only ones who suffer. The cloning industry has created “a whole canine underclass that remains largely invisible to us but whose bodies serve as a biological substrate” bioethicist Jessica Pierce wrote in a 2018 op-ed in the New York Times. A similar “underclass” of feline surrogate mothers exists, constantly being impregnated and giving birth to kittens who will mostly suffer brutally short lives.

Belle and Chai
Kelly Anderson had her cat, Chai, cloned. The result is Belle, left, who looks the same but “is completely different” personality-wise.

Indeed, cloning doesn’t guarantee anything: It doesn’t mean the genetic copy of your pet will have the same coat color, pattern or personality. It does not produce the same animal, nor a real copy of the animal.

Barbra Streisand admitted as much in 2018 when she let slip in an interview that she’d had her late dog cloned, then wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to defend her decision after taking criticism from animal welfare groups. Streisand wanted another dog just like her late Sammie.

“One of the reasons I chose cloning was because I couldn’t find another curly-haired Coton [de Tulear],” Streisand wrote.

Cotons de Tulear usually sell for between $2,000 and $4,000 from breeders. Five puppies were born to a successful litter using Sammie’s DNA. The runt died shortly after birth, while Streisand gave two puppies away to friends and kept two.

Streisand said she’s happy with her decision and thinks of her Sammie every time she looks at the puppies, but says neither of them have Sammie’s disposition.

“You can clone the look of a dog,” she wrote, “but you can’t clone the soul.”

Really what the cloning companies are offering is a replacement built off the same genetic template. The clones are brought to life by crude, Frankensteinesque processes, and opponents say cloning takes away potential homes for lovable cats and dogs who already exist in our shelters.

Then there’s the whole nature versus nurture debate. Doubtless the way a cat or dog is raised will have a significant impact on personality, but a clone with the same DNA, raised precisely the same way as the original, could still have a much different personality.

Cloning opponents argue commercial pet cloning companies are grief vampires in the same way self-proclaimed mediums and psychics are in their willingness to exploit people for profit. The desperate daughter willing to fork over $800 so a vulgar woman with a beehive hairdo can abuse the memory of her father by “connecting” with him in death to discuss trivialities is in an emotionally fragile state, but so is the grieving cat or dog lover reeling from the loss of an animal companion who was closer to them than most humans.

I realize it’s easy to criticize. I can’t even contemplate the eventuality of saying goodbye to Bud, and I haven’t walked a feline companion to the foot of the rainbow bridge yet.

But there is no other Buddy. The idea that I could replace him like getting a new car or a new phone would be an insult to his memory, to his dignity and to his existence as a genuine individual. It’s an insult to our friendship, our bond, our shared experiences. The time he wouldn’t leave my side when I was stricken with Bell’s Palsy and the mother of all headaches, the many times he’s sensed my discomfort and offered comfort in his way, purring and nuzzling, the wonders he’s done for my seasonal affective disorder.

The time he pigged out on closed pistachios and I comforted him as he cried and cried until his tummy was better. The time I forgot he was sleeping on my back, let slip a fart and heard a confused “Mmmmmrrrrrppp?”, prompting me to laugh so hard, tears were streaming down my cheeks.

Buddy the Handsome Cat
“Big Buddy lies! I did NOT cry.”

The time he jumped off the balcony as a kitten without thinking of how he’d get back inside, and I realized how much I loved the little guy as I searched for him and tried to bury the thought that I might never see him again.

No. A clone wouldn’t be Buddy, wouldn’t have his friendly nature, his boldness, his kittenish meow or, dare I say it, his singular obsession with turkey.

We can’t honor our little friends by paying large sums of money for a laboratory horror show to create a clone so we can pretend that clone is the pet we miss. But we can honor them by doing for other cats what we did for them, opening our homes and our hearts and making a difference to one animal at a time.

As for me, I’m pretty sure Bud would haunt me for the rest of my days if I cloned him. “That’s my turkey!” ghost Buddy would say. “That’s my toy! That’s my laser laser! That’s MY spot on the couch, that’s MY spot on your lap and your chest! Who is this pretender, and why does he look like me except less handsome and charming? Big Bud, you have some splainin’ to do!”

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.

cckraemer
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.

Buddy’s Mailbag: What Do You Think About Cloning Cats?

Dear Buddy,

I came across this article about a cloned kitten who looks a lot like you did as a baby, although not as devastatingly handsome.

What do you think about cloning? Do you want to be cloned?

– Wondering in West Virginia

Cloned Cat Cinnabun
Cinnabun 2.0, who is not as handsome as Buddy.

 


Dear Wondering,

You’re right, that kitten isn’t nearly as good-looking as I am.

What do I think about cloning? Well, the article says these people in North Carolina paid $25,000 to clone their cat, Cinnabun.

Twenty-five grand is a hefty price tag to clone a cat with such a stupid name. Do you know how much turkey that could buy? Well I don’t either, but I know it’s a lot!

Twenty-five thousand big ones could buy me a huge cat condo, one of those fancy window hammocks, a lifetime’s supply of Meowie Wowie and Purple Passion Meowijuana, plus all the toys I want!

But I don’t need that stuff. Although he has many faults, Big Buddy does a fine job of anticipating my desires and always serves my meals precisely on schedule. My bowl runneth over with turkey and salmon. The guys at the shelter, though, they could use it!

Speaking of shelters, you know who’s not getting a real home because these people decided to “create” Cinnabun 2.0? Some poor shelter cat who’s been in a cage for two years. (To their credit, the Bullerdick family, Cinnabun 2.0’s servants, say they donate to the Humane Society.)

Shelter Kitty
“Excuse me! Hey! I could use a home too, you know.”

The people who had Cinnabun cloned say they were inspired by Barbra Streisand, who cloned her dog for $50,000. What do you have against shelter pets, Barbra Streisand? Hmmm?

And no, I don’t want to be cloned! There’s only one Little Buddy! If Big Buddy clones me, I’ll come back to bite him and poop in his shoes!

– Buddy

Buddy the Very Handsome Kitten
Even as a kitten, Buddy was dashingly handsome and had huge muscles!