Booger — the heart, soul and sturdy foundation of a streetside act that brought together dog, cat and rat for performances that amused millions (if you count online) — has died.
The 13-year-old dog — a Rottweiler-Labrador mix – died Monday night from kidney and liver failure at a veterinary clinic in her hometown of Telluride, said her owner, Greg Pike.
Pike brought together Booger, a cat named Kitty and a rat named Mousie, taught them to arrange themselves in a pyramid and showed that animals can buck their stereotypes and view each other as more than predator and prey.
The hopeful message behind the act — in which Mousie stood atop Kitty, who stood atop Booger, most often on the west end of Pearl Street in Boulder — was that maybe we humans could do a better job of getting along, too.
It all started off on a bet, though.
Pike began putting the act together soon after he was given Booger as a puppy, according to the Boulder Daily Camera:
One day in a Telluride park, Pike and some others were discussing the limits of what’s possible, and he bet that he could get a dog, cat and rat to get along.
After finding Kitty and her littermates in a box under a house, Pike said he introduced the cat to Booger. They hit it off immediately and were inseparable from that point. Over the years, several different rodents have been used in the act.
Pike didn’t limit his entertaining to Colorado. To counter the sadness he saw in people after 9/11, Pike took the animals across the U.S. He said he enjoyed seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they saw the animals walking around, stacked on one another.
“Everywhere I brought them, they made people smile, and it just made me feel really good inside,” Pike said.
The act appeared on the Animal Planet series “Must Love Cats” and a YouTube video of them has been viewed more than 9.75 million times.
Pike said Booger will be cremated, and in the spring he will climb to the top of Gold Hill in Telluride to spread her ashes.
“I think my eyes are drained. It really hurts,” Pike said Tuesday. “She didn’t die in pain at all. She passed away in comfort in Telluride, where she loved to be.”
Kitty seems to be missing Booger as much as he is, Pike noted.
“I’ve never seen her curl up to me this much.”
Posted by jwoestendiek October 31st, 2012 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: act, booger, boulder, cat, colorado, dead, died, dog, dog cat rat, getting along, greg pike, instincts, kitty, mousie, peace, performance, pyramid, rat, stereotypes, street, street performers, telluride, video, you tube, youtube
I’m looking forward to seeing “Tabloid” — the new Errol Morris documentary about the 1978 scandal that saw a beauty queen from America go to London to track down the object of her affection (a Mormon missionary named Kirk), kidnap him, according to police, and, if you believe the court testimony, have her way with him against his will.
That’s because, for better and worse, that woman, Joyce McKinney, changed the course of my life, too.
Thirty years after the scandal that erupted when McKinney tried to reclaim, one way or another, the man she saw as her one true love, I would spend more than 100 hours on the phone with her as she went about an equally — or perhaps even more — dogged pursuit.
“Tabloid,” the documentary, focuses on the scandal and all the fun the British press had with McKinney’s exploits — from her arrest on charges of abducting the young missionary named Kirk and keeping him tied up in a cottage in the countryside, to the celebrity status she enjoyed after her release from jail, to her fleeing the country before trial disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.
My book focuses on dog cloning, the first commercial customer of which was that same Joyce Bernann McKinney. In 2009, McKinney became the first person in the world – unassociated with the fledgling business – to pay to have her dog cloned, a deceased pit bull named Booger.
My book revisits the old scandal, too, because, to me, there seemed to be some similarities between reclaiming Kirk and cloning Booger.
As suggested in ”DOG INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” both were attempts to, at any cost, recapture lost love — one through feminine wiles, if not force, the other through science.
As if her life hadn’t already oozed enough pathos and irony, McKinney’s attempt to resurrect Booger, or at least bring a genetically identical copy of him back into the world, would lead to an embarassing resurfacing of the old scandal. While doing news media interviews, in exchange for a discount on her cloning bill, she was recognized as the women who, as the British tabloids told the story at the time, manacled and raped the young Mormon missionary.
By 2000, McKinney had thought the scandal was finally behind her. She’d gone on to a new life by then, after years as recluse, living with her dogs and other animals, first in North Carolina, then in California. In California, she began using the name Bernann instead of Joyce and, having not lost her soft spot for dogs, continued taking in abandoned and unwanted pit bulls.
All were loved, but none were Booger, a dog she found on the highway in North Carolina who she says later saved her life when she was attacked by another of her dogs. After that, Booger went on to become her unofficial service dog, helping her with the day to day tasks her injuries made difficult.
After Booger died, she sought to have him cloned — first through an American company that was working with Texas A & M University to clone a dog. That research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. Unable to produce a canine clone, Texas A & M dropped the project. Scientists at Seoul National University picked up the research and cloned the world’s first dog, Snuppy, in 2005. McKinney then signed on with a South Korean company that had formed after that success.
McKinney first contacted me while I was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, after I ran an item about dog cloning on the newspaper’s pet blog that mentioned a then-anonymous woman who was paying $150,000 to have her dog cloned.
So began a conversation that would continue, off and on, for a year, and lead me to quit my job, travel to Korea, and write a book about dog cloning.
While we hit it off initially — both being dog lovers, both being from North Carolina — McKinney, as the months went on, would grow angry with me often. The first time was when I told her that, rather than writing a book with her about Booger, I wanted to write a book that looked at dog cloning overall — how the new business got started, how it was being marketed, and the animal welfare concerns it raised.
That would be the first of our many “break-ups.” But always, she would eventually call me back, updating me and seeking assistance with this or that.
On her trip to meet the newborn clones, during which she appeared globally in TV interviews, someone made the connection, raising the possibility, later confirmed, that the woman cloning her dog and the “Mormon manacler” were one in the same. She blamed me for that, though I had nothing to do with it.
She had feared there was a possibility that might happen. I was pretty sure it would. (Although I had written a newspaper story by then, it didn’t mention the 1970s scandal; at the time she had only vaguely referred to it and I had only reached 99 percent certainty that she was the same woman — a fact that she would confirm, and go into great detail about, later.)
After another period of silence, she reconnected with me again, this time asking me to go with her to pick up the clones. She wanted me to pretend I was handicapped so that I could claim one of the clones was my service dog, and she — if she found three more conspirators — could avoid having them fly home in the jet’s cargo hold.
For ethical reasons, I declined. But she still stayed in touch during her trip to pick up and return the dogs, an effort that didn’t go smoothly, as you can read in this excerpt from “DOG, INC.”
Back home with her clones, her troubles continued. At one point, all five clones, and her other dogs, were seized and impounded by animal control, though she managed to reclaim them.
After an argument, she moved out of the house she shared with a friend, bounced with the clones from motel to motel, and eventually moved back in.
That was about the time she was contacted by Morris.
I’m sure Morris, as was the case with me, found that dealing with her, to put it mildly, had some ups and downs. She, while appearing with one of the clones at an early screening of the movie, denounced its accuracy, even as Morris stood next to her.
I won’t see it until this weekend, but I’d guess, from what I’ve seen of previews and knowing the work of Morris, it fairly portrays all sides. And given his trademark style of turning on the camera and letting the subject talk into it, I’m sure McKinney gets ample chance to share her version.
I’ve only spoken with her once since my book came out, when she called, enraged, having seen a reference to it in a newspaper. She hadn’t read it by then, but denounced it, too, adding that I had no right to tell her story — either that of the scandal or that of the cloning.
McKinney told me repeatedly she didn’t want to see the two stories overlap — for she saw one as “tabloid filth” and the other — cloning her dog — as pure and heartwarming. Her hope is to start a center where pit bulls can be trained to be service dogs. She wants to call it Booger’s Place.
Some of those who see the movie, or for that matter read my book, may see her as manipulative and devious. Some may see her, in connection with the scandal, as a woman who holds little respect for the boundaries society imposes. Some may see her, in connection with cloning, as a person who was willing to jump over those nature imposes, as well. Some may see her, overall, as a person who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
I’ll say this much: She is without a doubt the most determined person I’ve ever known.
(John will be discussing and signing copies of “DOG, INC.” from 6 to 8 p.m. at Barnhills, 811 Burke St., in Winston-Salem.)
(John will be speaking after the 3:30 and 6 p.m. showings of “Tabloid” at the Aperture Cinema, 311 W. Fourth St., in Winston-Salem, this Sunday, Aug. 21.)
(For more information on “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend, click here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek August 17th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abducted, author, booger, british, clone, cloned, cloning, documentary, dog inc., england, errol morris, john woestendiek, joyce mckinney, kidnap, kinky sex, kirk, london, manacles, media, missionary, mormon, newspapers, pit bull, press, rape, scandal, sex, sex scandal, snuppy, south korea, tabloid
The agitated American was back.
She’d stood before the same ticket agents at the United Airlines counter in Seoul-Incheon International Airport the day before, and the one before that – pleading in tears one moment, loudly threatening lawsuits the next. She and her five nearly identical puppies needed to get home to California and putting them in the jet’s cargo area – as the airline was insisting its rules required – was, to her, out of the question.
Even after she presented them with some dubious “official” certificates stating the pups, despite their tender age, were service dogs, the airline officials held firm. She could carry one in her lap. The other four, they insisted, would have to travel as cargo.
“But I have three handicaps,” Bernann McKinney countered, big blue eyes staring out from under blond bangs. “I should be allowed to take at least three dogs, one for each…”
– From Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend
When airline officials refused to let Joyce Bernann McKinney and her five dogs board the cabin for a flight from Seoul to San Francisco, she took some drastic steps. That’s the kind the former beauty queen with a scandal in her past has always been prone to taking — the cloning of her dead pit bull Booger being perhaps a prime example.
McKinney, who, like other customers, banked her dog’s cells before the cloning of dog was even achieved, would wait for years — first for the science that brought us Dolly the sheep to get around to dogs, then for her laboratory-made replicas to be born.
When, as the first customer of commercial dog cloning, she went to meet the newly born clones, things went smoothly at first. She and her dogs would have a moment in the spotlight — but stepping into it would bring some other things back to life as well.
She’d be recognized from video of the press conference as the woman who, 30 years earlier, had been charged with abducting a Mormon missionary in England, and accused in court of having her way with him. (Her trial never took place because she fled the country then, disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.)
Getting Booger cloned — and all this is just part of the “uncanny” referred to in the book’s title — was a similar mission in many ways, marked by the same single-minded persistence and her refusal to take “no” for answer as she crossed an ocean, and a number of other boundaries, to be reunited with her true love. In 1977, it was Kirk, the Mormon missionary. In 2008, it was Booger, the dead pit bull.
When she returned to Seoul a second time to pick the Booger clones up, her problems – once she refused to permit the pups to fly in the cargo hold — continued.
What she did next was one of the scenes I used to open my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Cloning of Man’s Best Friend” — an excerpt of which, for those of you seeking a preview, I’ve just added to the book’s website: Dogincthebook.com.
Once she’d picked up the dogs in Seoul, she sought travelers who would be willing to pretend they were handicapped and take one of the “service” pups aboard the cabin with them. She went to the airport every day, offering free airfare to anyone willing to take part in the ploy. But she found no takers.
Eventually, her money and patience and energy running out, she began bringing the dogs to the U.S. one at a time — leaving four in a Seoul kennel, flying one to San Francisco, leaving him in a kennel there, then flying back to Seoul to pick up another.
Not until her third trip there did she find some willing accomplice. She managed to get all five clones to her home in Riverside, Calif. But there would be more troubles ahead.
In addition to being one of the main characters in my book, McKinney is the focus of a new Sundance-bound film by documentary-maker Errol Morris, called “Tabloid.” It focuses on the 1970s-era “Manacled Mormon” scandal, the feeding frenzy it represented for the British press and the toll that took on McKinney.
“DOG, INC.” delves into Mckinney’s background, as well as those of pet cloning’s other customers, including a police officer-turned-actor who says his German shepherd found the last survivor of 9/11, and a Texas rancher who learned the hard way that the clone of his unusually tame bull Chance, Second Chance, wasn’t the same gentle soul. It looks too at those who funded and researched the effort to clone a dog, and those who sought, and are still seeking, to make cloning pet dogs a profit-making business.
(This Saturday, Feb. 5, I — along with my dog Ace (no, he’s not a clone) — will hold a book signing for “DOG, INC.” at the Book Escape, 805 Light Street, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, from 1 to 3 p.m.)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 2nd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bernann mckinney, booger, book, book signing, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, documentary, dog, dog inc., dogincthebook, dogs, errol morris, excerpt, john woestendiek, joyce bernann mckinney, joyce mckinney, korea, Mckinney, new book, pit bull, seoul, signing, south korea, tabloid, the book escape
Meet Gregory Pike — currently homeless in Santa Barbara, California — and his dog, cat and rat.
Most days, Pike can be found on State Street there, along with his dog Booger, his cat Kitty, riding atop the dog, and his rat Mousey, riding atop the cat.
The Mayor of Santa Barbara reportedly found it so heartwarming a scene that she had it videotaped and sent it out as a holiday card. We find it to be right up there with the elephant and dog story out of Tennessee.
We also find it more than a little ironic that, if you go to the comments section beneath the dog-cat-rat-getting-along video on YouTube, you can find dozens of petty, mean-spirited, bickering comments from humans who seemingly can’t.
The best factual account of Pike and his animals we could find was in The Bottom Line, a bi-weekly newspaper sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Pike, originally from Telluride, Colo., says he has been studying animal habitats and psychology for about 30 years, has worked with animal rescues and rehabilitation centers for mountain animals, and has a diverse background in animal training.
Pike says the act started ten years ago “when someone said it couldn’t be done.”
“I understand animals and why they do things. I understand some of the barks, and the meows, and what the different ways they do it mean. I’m not a Doctor Doolittle, but I know what they’re asking for.”
Pike told The Bottom Line that he has some insights into what makes people tick as well, and with his act hopes to be able to catch the attention of people to pass on his messages of peace and humanity to the human species. “Peace can happen anywhere — if they can do it why can’t people?” he said.
Pike reportedly hopes to someday open a free pet adoption and rescue center, which is why he keeps a can out for money.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 31st, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, behavior, booger, california, cat, dog, dog cat rat, gregory pike, homeless, humans, kitty, mayor, mousey, peace, pets, rat, santa barbara, understanding, video
Bernann McKinney, the California woman who had her pit bull cloned, appeared on NBC’s Today show this morning.
McKinney, soon to return from Korea, where the cloning took place, won’t get custody of the clones of her dog for a month or two. She said she plans to bring three of five clones born last week home, and hopes to someday start a training center for service dogs, known as “Booger’s Place.”
McKinney says Booger, a dog she rescued from the street, saved her life when she was attacked by another dog 12 years ago, then went on to become her assistance dog.
Here’s a photo of all five “Boogers” — the first puppies cloned from a household pet for a customer not associated with the biotech industry.
Bernann McKinney, a California woman who says the original Booger saved her when she was attacked by another dog, then became her service dog, is expected to bring three of the dogs home in a month or two.
The pups were unveiled at a press conference in Seoul, Korea yesterday by the company that cloned them, RNL Bio.
( Photo courtesy of RNL Bio)
Former beauty queen Bernann McKinney met the five clones of her deceased pit bull Booger in Korea today — three of which she plans to take home to California as pets.
”It’s a miracle!” McKinney repeatedly shouted when she saw the cloned Boogers at the Seoul National University laboratory where the first dog in the world was cloned in 2005.
My story on McKinney, and the ongoing dispute over dog cloning, appears in today’s Baltimore Sun.
McKinney agreed to pay $150,000 for the cloning of her beloved Booger, who she says saved her from an attack by another dog and went on to become her service dog as she recuperated from her injuries.
The company that cloned her dog, RNL Bio, later agreed to reduce the fee to $50,000 in exchange for her cooperation in publicizing the achievement.
Seoul-based RNL Bio said the puppies, cloned in cooperation with a team of Seoul National University scientists, were born last week.
”Yes, I know you! You know me, too!” McKinney said joyfully, hugging the puppies, which were sleeping with one of their two surrogate mothers, both Korean mixed breed dogs.
The team of scientists working for RNL Bio is headed by Lee Byeong-chun, a former colleague of disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who scandalized the scientific community when breakthroughs he claimed to have made in cloning human stem cells were revealed as fake in 2005.
Hwang now runs his own foundation and has joined forces with an American company, BioArts International, to clone dogs. BioArts disputes that Booger was the first commercially cloned dog. Its CEO, Lou Hawthorne, has three clones of his family dog, Missy. It also claims RNL Bio is infringing on its cloning patents.
RNL Bio, which also maintains it is the sole company authorized to clone dogs, said that its cloning of Booger was the first successful commercial cloning of a canine, and that they expect it to lead to more orders.
”RNL Bio is commencing its worldwide services with Booger as its first successful clone,” the company said in a statement.
RNL Bio’s president, Ra Jeong-chan, said his firm eventually aims to clone about 300 dogs per year and is also interested in duplicating camels for customers in the Middle East.
To see a BBC video of McKinney and the pups, click here.