In "The 6th Day," Schwarzenegger's character asks the slippery pet-clone salesman if he will be able to trust the replicated dog -- "a large animal with large teeth" -- to be gentle with his daughter.
The salesman smiles. "We can make him smaller if you want, with softer teeth. We can even color-coordinate him to match your decorating scheme."
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)
From his Wisconsin lab, Damiani says he is focusing on cloning for now. "Eventually," he says, "there is the possibility to do genetic modification when we do cloning. We clone from cultured cells and that gives us the opportunity to modify the DNA in those cells, then screen the cells to see if the modification worked and then use the new cells to clone with."
Using the petri dish instead of the age-old stud/bitch process that has given us Australian cattle dogs that know how to nip at the heels of cows and German shorthair pointers that are natural-born hunters, scientists will be able to: put the breeding process on super-fast forward; work with purebred cats, which have always been as difficult to manage as, well, a herd of cats; and create heretofore-unimagined combinations and recombinations.
You want a "pooset hound," with the curly coat of a poodle and the ears of a basset hound? How about a "Great Daneshund" with the body of a dachshund and the legs of a Great Dane?
Susan McCarthy, author of "Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild," imagines a near-future in which even endangered species -- the wild cats and antelopes that Dresser is already cloning -- will be running around the urban apartment. She sees the possibility of tiny gorillas and two-foot-high giraffes.
The history of animal companions is long and complicated and full of surprises. In some cultures, cheetahs have been kept as pets and wolves have been raised like dogs. So turning wolves into little purse pups and feral jungle cats into bike-basket kitties makes perfect -- or imperfect -- sense. Can't you just see ptiny pterodactyls in Parisian bird cages and genetically defanged rattlesnakes playing with the kids in the sandbox? Michael Crichton, courtesy phone.
In the near future, "our pets could start looking alien and strange to some people," says bioethicist Caplan. "But that would already be true for the Hittites, the Assyrians and the Han Chinese. They wouldn't recognize our pets."
Some recognized breeds date back only a few years. The American hairless terrier line began in the 1970s, the British Victorian bulldog in the 1980s.
"As long as we are the species in control," says Betsy Dresser, "we are always going to look to technology to provide things for us that we want."
It's arguable whether owners or pets are in control at the moment. Genetic modification might finally liberate humans from their servitude to their pets -- no more walking them, feeding them, pooper-scooping up after them. On the other hand, we might miss it.
One thing we want is the ideal pet, she says, "whether it's a perfectly formed Persian cat or a miniature horse that we can bring into our living room."
The possibility of altering animals raises lots of new future-pet questions, Dresser says. For instance: "What kind of pets will we take with us to other planets?"