Nina Otto of Boca Raton, FL, has nine dogs, eight children, and thirteen grandchildren. She loves them all equally—but some more equally than others. “Favorites, you could call them,” she said. On New Year’s Eve day 2007, one of those favorites, a yellow Labrador retriever named Lancelot, succumbed to a battle with nose cancer. In 2009, Lancelot returned from over the rainbow bridge: He flew in first class to Miami International. Nina wore a jacket bedazzled with rhinestone retrievers for the occasion. “The airport was full of people, but he ran right to us,” she said.
Lancey, as this incarnation of the dog is called, is a clone. He was made at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea, where Lancelot’s DNA (taken from his saliva) was injected into a dog egg that had been enuculated (its own DNA removed). The cell began to reproduce after getting zapped with electricity. It was then placed into a surrogate, who, nine weeks later, pushed out a clone.
Lancey is not really the same dog; he’s a genetic duplicate, like an identical twin born and raised asynchronously. It is not easy to imagine two humans created this way winding up exactly like each other—no matter where you fall on the nature/nurture debate, it’s difficult to deny that nurture has at least some thin slice of influence. But Lancey crosses his front paws when he lies down. So did Lancelot! He also likes to sit by a bush that his predecessor enjoyed. Most importantly, “He looks exactly the same,” said Nina Otto, 68. “His head is the same head. Labs have very distinctive heads. They can be small or big, but his is the same. I don’t miss Lancelot now because in essence, he is same dog.”
In his new book, Dog Inc, Pulitzer-Prize winner John Woestendiek tells the tale of the animal cloning mini-craze that kicked off stateside in 1998 when, inspired by headlines about the sheep clone Dolly, John Sperling, founder of the mega moneymaking for-profit University of Phoenix, invested several million dollars into a Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine project to clone a dog.
“Dog cloning shows the strength of the bond that has evolved between humans and dogs,” said Woestendiek. ”It shows how attached we can get and how we tend to see them as almost fellow humans. It shows the lengths we’ll go through for love, even love of a dog.”
The Otto family paid $155,000 to clone Lancelot. The cost has since come down to about $100,000. Peter Onruang, a 41-year-old who runs a paintball shop and a spy shop in Hollywood, CA, is currently the US representative for RNL Bio, the Korean company that is currently working on cloning his two departed Yorkie mixes, Bubble and Wolfie (above). He compares them to Princess Diana and “a Victoria’s Secret model,” respectfully. He expects to get his clones within the next year. For those interested in following suit, he spells out the details of the process on his website, MyFriendAgain.com.
Woestendiek estimates that there are fewer than 100 owners of cloned pets in the US. All were made in Korea. As no formal directory of these scientific oddities exists, I’d like to offer a partial list.
Who’s Who of Pet Cloning in America
These lovely Huskie-Border Collies were made by Lou Hawthorne, a big-time Star Trek fan and the the founder of the two major pet cloning companies discussed in Dog Inc: Genetics Savings and Clone and BioArts. Both are now closed. He is the son of the girlfriend of John Sperling, who put up the money for the country’s inaugural dog cloning research project at Texas A&M. They ended up cloningseveral other animals, including a cat, but never a dog. When the college decided they could not clone dogs while also treating the lab dogs humanely, Hawthorne partnered with Hwang Woo-suk, the Korean scientist who made the world’s first dog clone, an Afghan Hound named Snuppy in 2005.
In Korea, many of the dogs used in the cloning process—the surrogates, the extra clones that occur, the egg donors, etc.—are living pretty miserable existences in cages. Snuppy probably has never played fetch or seen a Kong. But Hawthorne’s clones are doing OK. The dog that was cloned was his mother’s dog Missy, who died in 2002. One clone, Mira, is now living with him. Like her predecessor, she has one ear that sticks up and one that lies flaccid. Another clone, Kahless is living with a friend of his and, at Hawthorne’s request, is learning commands in Klingon, the language spoken on Star Trek. Then there is MissyToo, who was delivered to his mother Joan Hawthorne; in 2009, she told The New York Times that that the dogs weren’t actually so similar. The original Missy, for instance, would not have run through her home breaking things like a certain other dog.
Here is Lou Hawthorne and three of the clones:
Lancelot Encore, aka Lancey
“Everyone has their thing. We wanted to spend our money on something that was dear to us. Rather than a boat or a car, we got our dog cloned,” she told me. When people accuse her of putting so much money towards creating a dog when there are lots that need homes at shelters, she points out that she and her husband have given over $300,000 to the Humane Society. “We didn’t want any dog—we have other dogs. We wanted this dog,” she explained. “It’s a special thing that we wanted to do. “All our children are adopted, as are all my dogs. But had I known about cloning, I would’ve gone that route. It’s so much more interesting—so much more logical.” I asked her if she’d do it again. “I’d do it over and over and over,” she said.
Her husband is Edgar Otto, son of one of NASCAR’s founders and creator of the UrAssist, aka the You’re-In Control, a battery-operated bedpan. (A must-see video on the item here). “My husband said he wants to be cloned,” Otto said. “But I said no. But that’s because I don’t think I feel like raising him from a baby. Dogs grow up much faster.”
A former beauty queen now living on disability, Brennan McKinney might be best known for that time in 1977 when she kidnapped a Mormon in England, handcuffed him and forced herself upon him while making him read The Joy of Sex. She then escaped the country with a forged passport.
Some thirty years later, she had her father mortgage his house in order to pay for the cloning of her dog Booger. Booger was a pit bull she found on the side of the road. For many years she and Booger lived in a happy menagerie in her rural North Carolina home. Then one day she startled one of her dogs while swatting a fly. The dog, a mastiff named Tough Guy, attacked her. Booger rescued her. Tough Guy died, and McKinney nearly did as well. Booger was instrumental in her recovery. She had some of his cells cryogenically frozen.
The effort to clone Booger actually resulted in five genetically identical puppies, each of which has health issues. According to Woestendiek, legal problems have meant that all ten of her dogs have occasionally been round up and deposited at the local Animal Care and Control. In the book’s epilogue, he quotes her: “Cloning ruined my life. I’m in fear constantly that I’ll lose one of them, like I did my precious Booger, and it would be like him dying all over again…I was just trying to clone my friend.”
This post originally appeared at ReadyMade.com