In recent years, pets are becoming more like children to many pet owners. Some pet owners will do almost anything for their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent an astounding $51 billion on their pets in 2011. This is up from $17 billion just 10 years ago. Even with this increase in spending, it may be surprising that a couple named Edgar and Nina Otto decided to spend $155,000 to clone their yellow Labrador retriever.
The Otto’s loved their dog Sir Lancelot so much that they decided to collect his DNA before he died of cancer four years ago. Sir Lancelot was cloned, creating a replica named Lancelot Encore. Several months ago, the Ottos decided to breed their clone with a female American Kennel Club-registered Labrador retriever and on the Fourth of July, eight puppies were born. The Ottos will get their pick of the litter and the rest will be sold for $2,000 each. The cloned puppy will join the Otto’s eight dogs, five cats, and four birds.
The Ottos have become a media sensation this year. In May, they appeared on a TLC documentary, “I Cloned My Pet,” in which they discussed the benefits of pet cloning. Last month they were also featured in the HBO documentary film “One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss, and Betrayal.”
Some critics accuse pet cloning proponents of encouraging prospective pet cloning clients to falsely expect that their new pets will be indistinguishable from their old pets. What are the odds that one of the cloned puppies will have the same behavior and personality as Lancelot? After all, isn’t that why most people clone? An animal clone has the same genes as its genetic donor, but behavior is influenced by environment and experience in addition to the genes. Therefore, the behavior of an animal clone and its genetic donor will be no more similar than the behavior of identical twins.
The Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups have denounced cloning because they feel it is unethical for people to clone when so many homeless pets are in shelters. They go so far as to say that the cloning of pets has no social value and in fact may lead to increased animal suffering. Other critics argue that cloning attempts have high rates of failure; that clones may have serious health problems in later life and that pet cloning is a slippery slope to human cloning.
Proponents argue that cloning does not contribute to pet homelessness and the animals involved are treated humanely. Many feel cloning contributes to scientific, veterinary, and medical knowledge and it will help efforts to preserve endangered cousins of the cat and dog.
Having just recently lost a beloved pet of my own, I can certainly understand the desire to keep your pet’s spirit alive by cloning. But it is my personal belief that the money spent on pet cloning would be better spent on spaying or neutering and vaccinating the 6-8 million homeless animals that enter animal shelters each year. In addition, adopting from a shelter rather than cloning your pet will help save one of the 3 million animals that are euthanized in animal shelters every year.
People clone in order to replace the void they feel after losing their beloved pet. But cloning will not create an animal identical to the one who has passed on; cloning cannot replicate an animal’s individuality. A pet’s personality, the trait that most owners want to replicate, is the trait least likely to be replicated by cloning. An animal’s looks may be the only thing replicated by cloning. So before you clone, you might want to ask yourself what it is you really want. Is it your pet’s personality you love or just his looks?
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