WASHINGTON — “I want to clone that dog.”
Really? Fair enough. They’re adorable, they do adorable stuff, and you don’t want to say goodbye when they’re gone. No argument there. Understandable.
Then again, you probably meant it as a figure of speech.
In recent years, technology has given (higher-income) pet owners the ability to mean it literally. One of those owners is Barbra Streisand. In a recent Variety interview, the entertainer revealed that she created two clones of her pet dog, Samantha, after it died last year.
It’s raised questions of whether an owner should really put their money where their mouth is. And one veterinarian, Dr. Katy Nelson, says curious owners should reconsider. The laboratory procedure involves what she called a “really expensive, highly scientific puppy mill.”
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should,” Nelson told WTOP’s Deborah Feinstein and Marc Lewis.
The procedure — which costs about $50,000 for dogs and $25,000 for cats — works this way, she explained:
- DNA is extracted from the pet to be cloned, generally through a biopsy of tissue. This tissue is cryogenically preserved.
- “Surrogate” animals create fertilized eggs.
- The DNA is then erased from those eggs, and the pet’s preserved DNA is inserted.
- Those altered eggs are then implanted back into surrogate animals, which may or may not get pregnant and carry them to term.
The surrogate animals don’t appear to lead a pleasant existence, Nelson explained.
“These animals are being kept against their will,” she said. “They’re being kept hormonally supplemented, so that they can create these embryos at will.”
Those surrogate animals are also undergoing multiple pregnancies just to create one viable puppy or kitten clone — and unneeded clones face an uncertain fate. In addition, the commercial labs that clone pets aren’t necessarily forthcoming about what goes on behind the scenes, she said.
And if the ethics of it don’t bother you, consider this: A cloning doesn’t mean a carbon copy with the personality you knew and loved.
“It can be a genetically identical animal that can come out looking differently than the animal that you had,” said Nelson, who added that researchers say cloned pets are more likely to suffer birth defects and illness.
“My question to people who want to do this is: Are you really that desperate to create a carbon copy, or is it that you had such an incredible bond with that pet that you want that unconditional love and that personality again?” Nelson said.
Instead, the veterinarian recommends taking that $50,000, spending a hundred on a shelter pet’s adoption fee, and donating the rest of it “to save a heck of a lot more animals in need.”
Hear Nelson’s discuss pet cloning below.