Copycat culture: is it wrong to clone a beloved dead pet?

Barbra Streisand has revealed that she has created copies of her dog – but the ethics should give others paws for thought

Barbra Streisand has revealed that she had two clones made of her dog Samantha after her beloved coton de tulear died last year. This follows the fashion designer Diane von Furstenburg cloning her dog two years ago. Although pet cloning is illegal in some countries – including the UK – it appears to be a burgeoning international industry. The first pet to be cloned was a cat at Texas A&M University in 2001, while the first dog was cloned at Seoul National University in 2005. So, how exactly does one clone a pet?

1 The first thing anyone wishing to clone an animal needs is money. The US company Viagen, a market leader, charges $50,000 (£36,000) to clone a dog and $25,000 to clone a cat. It describes these animals as “an identical twin of the donor pet that is born at a later date”. For $1,600, you can genetically preserve your pet by freezing a tissue sample, thus keeping your options open. The dog in question doesn’t have any options, obviously.

2 Next, those interested in cloning need a vet. Cloning requires a biopsy to extract tissue from the original pet. In Streisand’s case, cells were taken from the late Samantha’s mouth and stomach. Cloning companies have different requirements. Sooam in South Korea – which claims to have created more than 1,000 clones since 2006 – prefers skin tissue if the pet is alive or skin and muscle if the pet has died.

3 If a pet dies before tissue has been extracted, cloning is still possible. But dead pets should not be put in the freezer – apparently, they belong in the fridge. Interested parties will need a large one. Or a small dog. Speed is of the essence. One British couple who cloned their late dog through Sooam has spoken of dashing to Boots for the tools they needed to remove the tissue themselves before flying out to South Korea to deliver it.

4 It seems to be the fate of cloned animals to be given rubbish names that allude to the idea of duplication. Dolly the sheep sounds like a toy sheep. The first cloned cat was named CC (carbon copy). Streisand’s dogs are Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, after the bows they must wear to be told apart. The offspring of Winnie, the first British dog to be cloned, was named Mini Winnie. How is a dog or cat meant to express its individuality?

5 The RSPCA has “serious ethical and welfare concerns around the application of cloning technology to animals”. In a statement, the organisation said it “would recommend anyone looking for a new pet to become part of their family to adopt one of the thousands of animals in rescue centres.”


Paula Cocozza

The GuardianTramp

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