"We can clone your four-legged loved one in just a few short hours," the sleazy salesman says. The result will be an exact replica. "He'll know all the same tricks you taught him. He'll remember where all the bones are buried."
These days pet cloning cannot be done in a few hours, but it can be done, and some visionaries see this as the future of pets -- you find a dog or cat you love and you make copies of it for life.
Advantages Cleo, above, has over a real cat are that the robo-cat does not have to be fed or cleaned up after, like the frisky cloned kittens Tabouli and Baba Ganoush, top right, with Genetic Savings & Clone chief executive Lou Hawthorne last year. GS& C chief scientific officer Philip Damiani, right, is working to meet a deadline for cloning a dog. "I feel the pressure every day when I come to work," Damiani says.
(Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
Genetics Savings & Clone, a pet-cloning company based in California with labs in Wisconsin, is considered the leader in the industry -- if you can call a few far-out and flaky-named companies an industry.
Over the past couple of years, GS&C has cloned several kittens and delivered two to customers. The company also reports that it plans to clone a dog this year. Though GS&C says the clones' owners prefer anonymity, it does provide a videotape of what it describes as its cloned kittens romping, and rolling and pouncing around. In one segment, Lou Hawthorne, the firm's honey-voiced chief executive officer, holds one of the kitties, Little Gizmo, while telling the camera that he offered Little Gizmo's owner, Dan, $100,000 in exchange for his just-delivered clone. "He just laughed," Hawthorne says.
In another segment, Hawthorne presents a newly minted clone, Little Nicky, to its owner, who is identified only as Julie. The cloning was completed in December, he says, and GS&C refers to Little Nicky as the first cloned pet ever sold to a paying customer. Julie tells the camera that the offspring is identical to the donor and she is overcome with emotion. Hundreds of pet lovers, who have banked DNA with GS&C, are waiting for just such a magical moment, says company spokesman Ben Carlson.
All this would seem like so much voodoo were it not for the successes reported and verified -- sheep, cows, horses and others.
At the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans -- a privately and state-supported facility that has also reported successful cloning -- Director Betsy Dresser is collecting DNA samples from endangered species losing their natural habitats because of human development. Dresser and her group have cloned a number of African wildcats and an antelope. Her work is intriguing because her techniques may be used to clone exotic -- and not-so-exotic -- pets in the future.
Philip Damiani, chief scientific officer at GS&C, is the former senior scientist at the Audubon cloning center. He is toiling away to meet a 2005 deadline for cloning a dog, which is more challenging than cloning a cat. It's more difficult to work with a dog's egg to produce cloned embryos and to coordinate the transfer of a cloned embryo with the infrequent estrus cycle of the surrogate mother. Dogs go into heat only once or twice a year; cats have a more frequent cycle. "I feel the pressure every day when I come to work," Damiani says. The price for a cloned pet is $32,000.
But to Martha Armstrong of the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States, pet cloning is just plain wrong. "Spending $32,000 to purchase an animal is to me an outrageous sum of money," Armstrong says. She suggests pet adoption. "There is a perfectly healthy, perfectly nice animal just waiting for a home."
Cloning, she says, "doesn't guarantee that an animal is going to have a nice personality."
The real tragedy of cloning, she says, is the pain and suffering that results from the process. "Dolly had a gazillion ones before her," Armstrong says. "They all died."
Carlson says GS&C is using newer technology that reduces the risk of cloning mishaps. However, he says, "the efficiencies are not very good. It varies by species."
He says, "You are not getting one live born for every clone embryo. Most are not going to take, or abort early. That's one of the reasons cloning is so expensive."