The dogs of 9-11: Trakr, the search and rescue dog who lives on — in his five clones
Most official accounts will tell you that search and rescue dogs at the World Trade Center found only cadavers after 9-11 — that no dog tracked down a survivor.
But the owner and handler of Trakr — a German shepherd retired from the Halifax, Nova Scotia, police department — says his dog did.
Specifically, says former Halifax police officer James Symington, it was Trakr who first alerted to the spot of rubble under which Genelle Guzman-McMillan would later be found.
Trakr died a hero — at least in the eyes of many — in 2009.
But part of him would live on.
An American company — the only one offering dog cloning to the general public — pronounced Trakr the most “cloneworthy” dog in America and had his cells shipped to Seoul, South Korea, where five clones of Trakr were produced, arriving in the U.S. about three months after Trakr’s death.
Symington is now training the clones — known collectively as Team Trakr — to be search and rescue dogs.
Trakr’s tale is among those told in my book, DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.
And, yes, it’s non-fiction.
I first ran into a clone of Trakr (that’s one of them to the left) when I visited the South Korean lab that, having contracted with the American company, was cloning Trakr, as well as five other dogs for customers who had taken part in an online dog cloning auction.
The lab was operated by Hwang Woo Suk, who — after heading the team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy — was fired from Seoul National University for falsifying results of his experiments on creating cloned human embryos.
While the American company, Bio-Arts, had told me Hwang’s lab would be off limits to me during my visit, I was, to my surprise, welcomed, given a tour, and allowed to observe a cloning.
While some I interviewed for the book cast doubt on Symington’s 9-11 claims — including a New York firefighter who said no dogs were involved in Guzman-McMillan’s rescue — Symington, the friend who accompanied him from Halifax to New York and two volunteer firefighters insist Trakr alerted to the spot Guzman-McMillan was later found buried under.
Symington, who was out on sick leave and went to New York without the authorization of his department, was fired shortly after he returned. Officials said his participation in the rescue effort ran counter to his claim of being unable to work.
Symington never checked in with those coordinating the canine search and rescue effort at the World Trade Center, but, like many others, went straight to work after arriving.
Trakr’s work at 9-11, his career as a police dog in Halifax and the strong emotional connection between handler and dog prompted Symington to bank the dog’s cells years before he entered the contest — back when Bio-Arts was known as Genetic Savings & Clone.
The company, originally based in Texas, where experiments aimed at cloning the first dog were going on at Texas A&M University, was connected to John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, and the man who was financing the research.
After A&M dropped the project, Seoul National University in South Korea cloned the world’s first dog. Genetic Savings & Clone resurfaced as Bio-Arts, and its CEO, Lou Hawthorne, worked out a deal with Hwang, who’d since opened his own institute, to clone dogs for the company, starting with Hawthorne’s mother’s dog, Missy.
Symington was to receive a single clone of the dog, but, as Hawthorne explained at the time, “We decided collectively that the world would be a better place with more Trakrs.”
Symington is training all five clones to do search and rescue and work, continuing the legacy of Trakr, who died at age 16.
The five Trakr clones were born over a four month span, the first on Dec. 8, 2009. Later, Symington received what was said to be a sixth clone of Trakr — this one, somehow, a female.
While some canine clones accidentally come out with a gender opposite their donor, or even of mixed gender, it’s not clear — to me at least — whether creating a female version of Trakr was intentional, an accident, simply the result of mating a Trakr clone with a female German shepherd, or the result of some even newer technology developed in South Korea.
After cloning Trakr, and all five winning bidder’s dogs, the American company withdrew from the dog cloning business in 2010, leaving just one South Korean company, RNL Bio, that still clones dogs as a business. Hwang, however, who created the Trakr clones, continues to clone dogs at his research institute.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 11th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 9-11, 911, anniversary, attack, auction, bio arts, bioengineering, book, cloned, clones, cloning, contest, dog cloning, dog inc., dogs of 9-11, genelle guzman-mcmillan, genetic savings & clone, genetics, golden clone giveaway, james symington, john woestendiek, online, RNL Bio, search and rescue, seoul, September 11, south korea, survivors, trakr, world trade center