Not A Science Fiction Piece

Losing a cherished pet is heartbreaking ordeal, so traumatic that I often hear people say they never, ever, want to own another dog or cat. Because of the length of our lifespan, we humans are destined to suffer waves of agonizing grief again and again as we outlast our furry companions, one after another. What price would we pay to forego the misery that marks the end of a truly great friendship? What do you think about fifty grand?

It is now possible to obtain a second pet that is genetically identical to the one you’ve lost, by submitting tissue samples to a cloning laboratory. There are three major facilities to service your cloning needs, two in Asia and one in North America. All of them employ the same scientific principle: If we obtain healthy cells—usually in the form of skin—from a living or recently deceased animal, that animal’s complete genetic content can be extracted, stabilized, and stored. Next, a female of the same species is made to ovulate using a regimen of medication, and her eggs are collected. Theseeggsare the vehicle used to transform a frozen tissue sample into a genuinepregnancy. The inside of each one is meticulouslyevacuated so that no DNA remains, and then the genetic material of the pet to be cloned is inserted in its place. Swirled into a nutrient-rich broth and zapped with a tiny jolt of electricity, the former skin cells are now embryos and ready for implantation. A surrogate mother is prepared and sent to surgery for the implantation process, and everyone settles in to wait. If she’s good at her job, she’ll pass a pregnancy testwhen the time comes, and the litter of clones will be delivered on its conventional due date. The babies nurse and get weaned in a conventional fashion, and the healthiest specimen or specimens are subsequently presented to you, the customer.

It really requires a lot of labor, expertise, equipment, and patience (not to mention spare dogs and cats) to produce a single successful genetic copy of your previously owned pet. Perhaps $35-100,000 isn’t a totally unreasonable price tag for such specialized work.Cloning companies are also using these techniques for other pursuits,such as helping endangered species recover or even reversingextinction. There’s purpose in this technology that would appeal to a broader population than the handful of people wealthy enough to commission a duplicate dog or cat. I have a lot of questions, though, don’t you? Cloning has a relatively low success rate of 20%.What’s happened to the failed litters and redundant clones? How do surrogates spend their time between jobs, and how often are they required to bear offspring? If personality doesn’t emerge from the process unchanged (it does not), memories are not retained (they are not), and even coat pattern can’t be reliably reproduced, what exactly are these companies selling?

If your pet returns to you in some fashion (mileage may vary), does it actually ease the grief of his passing?

Dr. M.S. Regan