Tag: ViaGen

“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.”

Sunday Cats: ‘Cat Daddies’ Documentary, Misconceptions About Cloning

A trailer for ‘Cat Daddies‘ comes right out with it: Men who love cats are often stereotyped as oddballs.

“People see a cat dad and they think ‘Oh he must be weird and creepy,” says one guy, who is shown hilariously working out his biceps by lifting his cats in place of weights. “I feel like we’re getting to a point where it’s okay [to say] ‘Yeah, I have cats.'”

Another man recalled a conversation with his college buddies in which one of them floated the idea of adopting a few cats.

“The reaction was ‘No man, you can’t do that,'” he says with an amused look on his face.

Of course, PITB readers know it’s perfectly natural for men to love cats, especially cats as muscular, intimidating and tiger-like as Buddy.

But if you’ve ever wondered what the experience is like for guys who want to adopt kitties, ‘Cat Daddies’ takes a look at several men from different backgrounds and their beloved felines, from a homeless man in New York who won’t part with his tabby even it means he won’t get housing, to an Instagram star whose rise to fame has been propelled by his feline masters.

Californians can catch the documentary in person, and help fund a good cause, at an April 16 screening in Long Beach, CA, on behalf of the Little Lion Foundation. The California-based nonprofit specializes in caring for neonatal and young, abandoned kittens, as most shelters aren’t equipped to care for them and such kittens are often euthanized if they land in an animal control or kill shelter.

For the rest of us, check out the Cat Daddies site for a list of virtual screenings and festival events.

Man with kitten
Credit: Tim Douglas/Pexels

A grieving woman explains why she’s cloning her late cat

Kris Stewart adopted Bear, a five-year-old ragdoll “with a big, bold, sassy look,” in March of 2021.

Stewart, the CEO of a senior care company in Canada, described Bear as “the smartest animal I’ve ever owned,” and said the resourceful cat could work out how to open locked doors and windows.

“What I didn’t realize was his need for adventure and exploring,” she wrote in a column for Newsweek.

After “cat-proofing” her backyard and taking Bear on walks via a harness, Stewart decided the ragdoll needed to be outside to be happy. Bear “was off-leash by May 2021,” she wrote.

“Then, one day in January 2022, I let him out about 4.30pm and within about 20 minutes I heard something, saw cars backing up down the street and ran outside. Bear had been hit. Obviously it was my fault. I’m his guardian and I made the wrong decision, and I have to live with that.”

Stewart acknowledges that cloning is a process that involves mistakes, although it’s not clear if she’s aware just how gruesome the process can be. Likening it to “human parents who want to go through IVF rather than adopt,” she said she’s hoping the clone will have the same temperament as her beloved Bear.

“I would much rather replicate Bear’s genetic material into another cat than adopt again because I would love to see the personality of Bear live on,” she wrote. “He was the most brilliant animal I’ve ever owned. Research tells us that a significant portion of personality is carried in genes so I’m willing to take the chance. I’ve said before that Mother Earth is not finished with Bear and Bear is not finished with Mother Earth. So, if I can bring back his genetic material in the form of another cat, I would like to do that. If their personalities are a little different, that’s OK, I’ll be happy regardless.”

Bear the cat
Stewart with Bear.

It’s clear Stewart is devastated by losing Bear, and we don’t want to sound callous by criticizing her decision. Grief leads people to do all sorts of things, and there’s no “correct” way to cope. We all handle it differently.

At the same time, it’s wishful thinking to believe a clone is somehow a continuation of the original, or that cloning can bridge the considerable gap between nature and nurture. That’s just not how it works. Sadly, Mother Earth is done with Bear — there’s no continuity of consciousness.

Even in science fiction stories where cloning technology is flawless and human cloning somehow exists despite considerable moral and religious objections, it’s clear that cloning is, well, cloning: Even if the clone is perfect in every way, even if the process manages to faithfully reproduce personality and memories can somehow be transferred, there is no “bridge” between the original and the copy. For the person who is cloned, life ends when their consciousness blinks out, and nothing can resurrect it.

We hope Stewart finds peace and loves her new cat, but we don’t believe cloning is right answer when grieving the loss of a pet.

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!”