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Crystal Miller-Spiegel has an M.S. degree in animals and public policy from the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a policy analyst for the American Anti-Vivisection Society and is the author of numerous papers, articles and reports. One of her recent reports was "Buyers Beware: Pet Cloning Is Not for Pet Lovers," a document she authored for the AAVS and the Humane Society of the United States.
Many of us have had that one special dog or cat, the one who could never be replaced. When he or she died, it felt as painful as losing a family member, leaving us anguished and desperate to fill the void. But what if we could clone our beloved pets? Could we really have them back again?
Media coverage over the past few years would certainly have us think so. But is this true, and do we know at what cost? Pet cloning certainly gets national and international media attention — it has even been the subject of a cable TV reality show on TLC — but few journalists seem to report on what’s really involved in cloning and the degree of animal suffering involved.
Animal cloning is not like animal breeding. It is considered to be experimental, and its results are often unpredictable. This raises serious animal welfare concerns not only for the cloned animals being born, but also for the numerous animals used in the process of trying to clone just one pet. In cloning procedures, multiple female dogs and cats undergo anesthesia and have eggs surgically removed. These eggs are manipulated so that the old DNA is stripped out and replaced with new DNA from the animal to be cloned. Then these embryos are surgically implanted into other dogs and cats — called surrogates — in the cloning laboratory. These animals are monitored for pregnancies, many of which will not reach full term. So we are talking about multiple embryos implanted in multiple cats or dogs with the hope of producing just one pregnancy. There have been instances, however, of up to five clones of the same animal being born. What happens to these “surplus” animals — the surrogates used to carry the embryos and the excess clones who don’t “work out”? Their fate is often unknown.
A further concern is that in many cases, the clones are not born healthy. Skeletal and other congenital defects are common. Researchers can also only hope that the animal looks like he or she is supposed to. And, of course, it is unlikely that the cloned pet's exact personality will be replicated. Whether we are talking about people or pets, who we "are" is a result of so much more than just our DNA. The environment a pet is born into (for example, a home vs. a lab), how he is raised and who is involved in raising him all play a role in the development of his unique personality.
In the U.S., pet cloning was largely driven by one billionaire’s desire to clone a single dog: Missy. The Missyplicity Project started when former university-professor-turned-billionaire-entrepreneur John Sperling wanted to replicate a favorite dog. It spawned multimillion-dollar experiments at Texas A&M University and eventually led to the creation of a commercial company, Genetic Savings & Clone. This company tried to profit from pet DNA banking for future cloning while it was still conducting dog and cat cloning experiments. Over time, however, only a small number of cloned cats actually survived (some of whom did not have the “right look” or other desired traits and were put up for adoption), and the company finally closed its U.S. lab. The U.S. company was never able to successfully clone a dog. It subsequently tried to resurrect the venture through a partnership with South Korean scientists who had been able to clone an Afghan hound. The researchers ultimately did clone Missy, but a combination of ongoing cloning failures, market competition and lack of interest doomed the partnership. You can read more of this history here: bioartsinternational.com.
Today, South Korean scientists continue to clone dogs for people who are willing to pay hefty fees and fly the cloned puppies across the world (and gain a lot of media attention in the process). But no one talks about the number of animals who must be used, and arguably abused, in order to produce a single clone — or what happens to them when the process is over. Most of this work occurs in countries like South Korea that are beyond the oversight of U.S. humane and animal welfare regulations. Fortunately, in my opinion, U.S. entrepreneurs have so far continued to steer clear of this risky, controversial venture. Hopefully, pet cloning will soon become a thing of the past.
If you want to find out more about pet cloning, you can visit this site, nopetcloning.org, to read some of the reports that I and others have authored on the topic.
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