A few years back, I instructed my dog Brandy to stay alive forever. She didn’t listen. Maybe you've had similar one-sided conversations with your dog.
But what if our death-defying wish could be granted? Now, for the incredibly low price of $100,000, your dog can live on, in a way.
Earlier this month the new site, Tech Insider (@/Facebook), part of Business Insider, posted the video "How to clone your dog — for $100,000." In it, you learn that after a few relatively easy steps, you too can get a cloned version of your dog.
But even if you had $100,000 to spare, would you want to spare it in this way? The Tech Insider video concludes with a word of caution: cloning an animal's genetics is not the same as cloning who that individual is, or should I say, who that individual became over the course of his or her lifetime.
This is where the cloning story gets juicy, or maybe a bit morbid when you think about it from the dog's perspective. I checked in with John Woestendiek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and author of Dog, Inc.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commercial Dog Cloning Industry. I picked up Dog, Inc. a few years back and couldn't put it down, probably because, as one review notes, "It's like watching a Coen brothers movie," while wondering whether the book describes "Preposterous Franken-science or groundbreaking technology." I recently called on Woestendiek to share his insights into the dog side of dog cloning:
JH (Dog Spies): What is the biggest difference between clones and originals?
JW: Unfortunately, you won’t know that until your puppy clone comes home.
Likely, it will be a very close physical match. The cloners ensure that by making multiple clones for every dog they are cloning, and then passing along to the customer the one that most closely resembles the original. What happens to the rest? Good question. At the time I visited Sooam [ed: Sooam is the cloning company in Seoul, South Korea], and at the time I wrote my book, many of the “surplus” clones appeared to be languishing in cages.
Overall, the biggest difference between a clone and the original is likely to be personality, which even the cloners now admit (they didn’t at first) can’t be duplicated. Given that much of personality is shaped during the first months of puppy life, much of it will probably already be in place before a dog cloning customer finally (after four months at least, given quarantine issues) gets his or her dog. A clone is a twin, and most of us know how different, personality wise, twins can be.
What is an animal welfare issue involved in dog cloning?
One is the sort of philosophical question of whether we really need new ways to make dogs when so many are already being put down in shelters.
A person whose dog had died, or is dying, and who wants the same dog (appearance-wise) again, can find much less expensive, and less intrusive, ways to do that. I would venture to say that somewhere in America there’s a dog that looks just like yours looking for a home. Even, I will admit, my own “one of a kind” dog has doppelgangers out there who are in need of a home. I know because, as an experiment, I checked.
Beyond that, there are concerns about the number of dogs it takes to clone just one. In addition to the tissue sample of the original dog, cloners will need to harvest egg cells from dogs in heat – maybe a dozen or so. And, after zapping the merged cells with electricity so they start dividing, they’ll need surrogate mother dogs, to carry the puppies to birth. That’s a whole lot of surgeries, on a whole lot of dogs.
Add to that all the cases that go wrong, all the aborted fetuses, all the dogs that don’t come out as exact matches, and an argument can be made that dog cloning is not only adding to the dog overpopulation problem, but causing a lot of pain and suffering along the way.
Would you ever clone a dog? Or any companion animal for that matter?
No. I view cloning as an insult to the original dog – the equivalent of saying “I can easily (assuming I am wealthy enough) have another you created.” The fact is you can’t.
And it seems unfair to the clone as well, in terms of the expectations the dog owner will likely have for it. When one of the early promoters of dog cloning presented his mother with a clone of her dog, and the pup knocked over her wine glass, she declined the clone, noting that her dog would never have behaved in such a way. The first true customer of dog cloning was also shocked at the behavior of some of the five clones of her dog she took home from Korea.
More often than not, the clone just cannot live up to the owner’s memory of the original dog. Expectations are just too high. When you get right down to it, the act of getting your dog cloned is, I’d argue, motivated more by selfishness than anything else.
Anything else you want to add?
My biggest problem with the industry, in its earlier days on the market, was that it was being deceptive, and exploiting the grief of pet owners. It was pretty much promising a dog that would be same in every way. Since then, the one remaining company that does it has toned that down, and admits personality can’t be duplicated.
The industry came to be in part because of the zealous quest to do something for the first time, with the added incentive of it being a profitable pursuit someday with so many beloved companion dogs dying each year.
To me, cloning companion pets falls into the “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should” category.
From my own in-depth look at it — despite the technological wonder it may be, despite the intriguing characters behind it — I’d say what I felt more than anything else by what was playing out was repulsed.
For more on dog cloning:
Why cloning is a terrible way to bring your pet dog back from the dead by Lauren Davis at io9
An explanation of dog temperament and personality, Dog’s Personalitites by me at The Bark