Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2002

Pet cloning: Too much of a good thing?

February 23, 2002


Midge Grinstead wasn't thrilled when she heard the recent news that scientists at Texas A&M; University had succeeded in cloning a cat.

"My reaction when I saw the article in the paper was: What for?" said Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, 1805 E. 19th St. "Nationwide, shelters and pounds euthanize as many as 10 million cats and dogs per year. Lately we've actually made strides in getting the word out about how many animals don't have homes. Now they're going to clone pets for you?"

Last week's announcement from Texas A&M; marked the first time that researchers had been able to use cloning to reproduce a genetic duplicate of a domestic companion animal.

The female shorthair kitten is named "cc," short for "copycat."

Funding for the project came from philanthropist John Sperling's Genetic Savings & Clone, which was established with the intent of helping people clone their pets.

Animal welfare organizations like the Humane Society of the United States have called the scientific advancement unfortunate news, as numerous communities already have too many pets for too few homes.

Grinstead understands the common urge that people have to perpetuate the life of a beloved pet. That's why some pet owners want their companion animals to have a litter before being spayed or neutered  they think they can reproduce the original pet.

"But that's not the way it goes," she said. "Individual animals have different temperaments."

Grinstead thinks companies like Genetic Savings & Clone may make money in the short term, but customers will eventually figure out that a clone just isn't the same as the original.

If scientists are going to clone animals, she said, they should focus their efforts on those that are endangered, like Siberian tigers or giant pandas.

But will cat and dog breeders be able to resist the temptation to clone the perfect specimen, an animal that's a proven winner in the show ring?

Liz Phillips, a Lawrence woman who breeds champion boxer dogs, indicated she'd have no interest in cloning her animals  no matter how ideal one of them might be.

"You're still not going to get the same dog," she said.

Phillips and her husband, Jim Phillips, have been breeding and showing boxers for about 12 years under the name Jay R Bar Boxers. They're also active in rescuing boxers that end up at shelters and humane societies.

"We have way too many companion animals now  every shelter is full," she said. "Adding another way to produce these pets seems like shooting ourselves in the foot."

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