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Tag: cloning

Second thoughts about dog cloning

SONY DSCOne of the men behind the push to clone dogs — and market the service to bereaved pet owners — seems more convinced than ever that doing so was, if not a mistake, at least a quest that led to some bad places.

Lou Hawthorne, who established a cell bank (Genetic Savings & Clone) and pushed researchers at Texas A&M University to try and clone the world’s first dog in the late 1990s — in hopes of turning dog cloning into a profitable business — said in an interview last week that cloning has led to thousands of dogs suffering each year.

“A cloned dog contributes to the happiness of a family but I do not think it is possible to do it without a huge amount of suffering to hundreds of others,” Hawthorne told The Mirror, which was reporting on the first dog cloning for a customer in the UK.

Hawthorne has been out of the dog cloning business since shutting down BioArts, the successor to Genetic Savings & Clone, which closed not long after efforts to clone a dog at Texas A&M were dropped.

That research was funded by John Sperling, the wealthy founder of the University of Phoenix and the boyfriend of Hawthorne’s mother. Millions of dollars were poured into the attempt to clone Joan Hawthorne’s dog, Missy, a husky-border collie mix.

SONY DSCWhen Texas A&M dropped the project, scientists as Seoul National University in South Korea began their own effort to clone the world’s first dog.

They picked up where American scientists left off, and dog cloning was achieved within two years with the 2005 birth of Snuppy, an Afghan hound manufactured from cells taken from a veterinary student’s dog.

Hawthorne, under the auspices of Bio Arts, later teamed up with Hwang Woo Suk, one of the lead scientists on the Snuppy project who opened his own lab after being fired from the university.

First, he had Hwang clone Missy, resulting in a dog named Mira, but when the clone was delivered to Joan Hawthorne she didn’t want her. She told a New York Times reporter at the time the puppy was too rambunctious.

SONY DSCThen Hawthorne and Hwang teamed up to produce and sell more clones. They held a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in which a free cloning was offered to the winner of an essay contest, and an online auction where five winning bidders, offering upwards of $150,000, had their dogs cloned.

A second South Korean company RNL Bio, with help from another of Snuppy’s creators at SNU, was also cloning dogs — and it produced the first one sold to a customer not connected to the industry, a pit bull named Booger, five copies of which were cloned from the dead dog and, eventually, brought home by the California woman who owned him.

RNL pulled out of cloning pet dogs in 2011, not long after the publication of my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

Hawthorne had already stepped away from the business by then. In September of 2009, Hawthorne pulled out of the partnership with Hwang, citing, among other reasons, his concerns that accepted animal welfare protocols – or at least those accepted by most Western countries — weren’t being followed by the South Koreans.

He also, at the time, blamed court fights over patent rights, the high cost of cloning, deformities and abnormalities that occurred in the cloning process, and what he called the ”distraction factor” — annoying questions from the media and bloggers about the wisdom and ethics of cloning dogs.

doginccover (5)(As a newspaper reporter who wrote one of the earliest articles on commercial dog cloning, then a blogger, and then the author of “Dog, Inc.,” an expose of the dog cloning industry, I’m pretty sure that latter group included me.)

In his interview wih the Mirror, Hawthorne referred to the vast numbers of dogs that it took — up to 80, he said – to clone just one.

And, he said, random dogs used for cloning by Korean researchers were returned to the dog farms they were borrowed from — farms where dogs are raised for their meat.

“That is why I got out,”  Hawthorne said. “I couldn’t care less if the cloning business world collapses but I care about suffering.”

Sooam told me, in 2009, that dogs used in the process were returned to the farms. In more recent years, however, Sooam has insisted that both the dogs from whom egg cells are harvested, and those who serve as surrogate mothers, are sent to adoptive homes when their use in the laboratory is completed.

Hawthorne’s remarks came after the birth of Mini Winnie, a dachshund cloned by Hwang’s lab for a London resident who won a contest sponsored by Sooam. As Sooam attempts to spread the word about its unusual service, Hawthorne has taken to speaking out against it.

SONY DSC“Dog cloning is unviable,” Hawthorne said. “It cannot be achieved at a price people can afford.”

Hawthorne now cares for two clones of Missy — Mira and Missy Too.

The Mirror reports Hawthorne has more recently been working on cures for human cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the newspaper quoted him as saying human cloning would be safer and more viable than dog cloning.

“Unlike the dog industry, no human would die.”

(Photos: Lou Hawthorne with Mira; Snuppy at Seoul National University, James Symington, winner of the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” with five clones of his former police dog, TrakR, in Los Angeles; Mira at the dog park; by John Woestendiek)

UK’s first canine clone is born in Seoul

miniwinnie

With more than 500 canine clones now roaming the world, you wouldn’t think the fact that one has been produced for a pet owner in the UK would make such a big splash.

But it has, and a big splash is just what the cloners had in mind.

To introduce its unique service to Britain, Sooam Biotech, the South Korean laboratory that’s now the only company cloning dogs, borrowed from an earlier chapter in dog cloning’s bizarre history. It held a public contest, awarding a free cloning as the grand prize.

The winner: Rebecca Smith, 29, of London, who learned in late March that a clone of her 12-year-old dachshund Winnie had been born in a Seoul laboratory, BBC reported.

She named the dog Mini Winnie.

The competition saw dog owners submit videos of their dogs and compete for the chance to “immortalize” their pet for free. The bill for dog cloning normally runs around $100,000.

“Sooam Biotech is looking for one person with the most special and inspiring reason for cloning his/her beloved dog,” the company said in announcing the contest.

The contest was similar to one held in the U.S. when dog cloning first hit the market. It was called the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” and the winner was TrakR, a search and rescue dog whose owner said the German shepherd found the last survivor in the rubble of 9/11.

The weird and wacky story of how dog cloning was achieved, how it was marketed, and the first customers to sign up for it can be found in my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

The UK’s first canine clone — who won’t arrive in the country until after a 6-month quarantine period — was cloned at Sooam Biotech, a laboratory run by Hwang Woo Suk, who was a member of the Seoul National University team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

That research began after an earlier effort to clone a dog in the U.S., at Texas A&M University, was unsuccessful.

The Texas A&M research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. After cloning a cat, and assorted farm animals, the Texas A&M efforts to clone a dog were called off, but Sperling’s front man, who had established a company to store the cells of dead and dying dogs (Genetic Savings & Clone), even before dog cloning was achieved, later teamed up Hwang and Sooam to offer an online auction, with the highest bidders receiving clones of their dogs.

SONY DSCHwang founded his lab after getting fired from Seoul National University when his claim to have produced the world’s first cloned human embryos was deemed fraudulent. He was later convicted of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human eggs, but his 18-month sentence was suspended.

Hwang has more recently has embarked on trying to clone a woolly mammoth from 10,00-year-old remains found frozen in Siberia.

Meanwhile, he’s churning out laboratory-created dogs, more than 500 of which have been born to surrogate mother dogs at his lab and kennel.

To create Mini Winnie, a piece of skin was taken from Winnie and transported to Seoul. Cells from the sample were placed inside an anonymous donor dog’s egg cell and, with a jolt of electricity, they merged.

Then the embryo was implanted inside a surrogate dog that gave birth, via Caesarean, to Winnie on March 30.

“The world would be a better place with more Winnies in it,” Smith, 29, says in a Channel 4 documentary, “The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

smithandwinnieSmith received the original Winnie as a present on her 18th birthday, and she says the dog helped her overcome “lots of demons,” including an eating disorder. Smith says Mini Winnie looks identical to the original, who is old and arthritic, but still alive.

Hundreds of pet owners have had dogs cloned since the first customer, a California woman who received five copies of her dead pit bull, Booger.

Critics of the process say cloning doesn’t result in the resurrection of an animal, but a laboratory-made twin, whose creation requires the involvement of numerous other dogs, and who might not act like the original at all.

Initially, two South Korean companies were cloning dogs for pet owners (and even more for research purposes), but one of the, RNL Bio, has pulled out of the dog-cloning business.

While the cloning process has grown more efficient, some animal welfare groups say risks are still high.

Dr Katy Taylor, Head of Science at The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “Cloning is a very unpredictable and extremely wasteful process … In order to produce just one ‘perfect’ clone, many puppies with the same genes as a loved animal will be born … Some of these puppies will be aborted or will die soon after birth from unpredictable health complications and severe birth defects.”

Defective pups, and the South Korean laboratory’s failure to follow animal welfare protocols, were among the reasons cited by the American company that teamed up with Hwang for pulling out of its dog cloning arrangement.

The documentary, while it mostly follows the judges as they visit with contestants and their dogs, does go some interesting places, including Edinburg, for an interview with Sir Ian Wilmut, cloner of Dolly the sheep. Wilmut doesn’t endorse pet cloning, and says he remains skeptical of it, saying it will lead to lots of disappointed customers who, despite their hopes, won’t get an animal with the same personality as the original.

There’s also an interview with a pet owner, not a contestant, who views dog cloning as a Hitleresque pursuit, and there are several allusions to the fact that some Koreans eat dog meat.

“The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend” was made by the same independent production company that produced “I Cloned My Pet,” several episodes of which appeared on TLC.

“The £60,000 Puppy” is an improvement over those productions, which brushed aside most ethical questions and animal welfare concerns about pet cloning. While the new documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into them either, it does present something more than a one-sided view.

Like the earlier documentaries, it reinforces that most customers of dog cloning are, shall we say, eccentric sorts, and that their attachment to their dogs — as with all of us — is a powerful one.

Perhaps the most telling moment, though, comes as the judges debate — American Idol style — the public relations benefits of each contestant.

After that, the winner is … after a long, long pause … announced.

Cloning, it seems, is no longer some futuristic pipedream. It has become a reality, and apparently an entertainment form.

My view? Cloning is no game show, or at least it shouldn’t be.

(Photos: Top, Mini Winnie / Channel 4; middle, Hwang in his lab / John Woestendiek; bottom; Smith and the original Winnie / Channel 4)

Miley sings to giant statue of her dead dog

This video loses its audio about two-thirds of the way through, but it’s enough for you to get the point.

Which is either (A) Miley Cyrus misses her dog, or (B) Miley Cyrus wants to be sure everyone knows how much she misses her dog.

Floyd, an Alaskan Klee Kai that Cyrus had owned since 2011, died April 1. While repeatedly tweeting about the pain that has caused her,  Cyrus has been hesitant to describe what caused the dog’s death. It is now believed to have been a coyote attack.

floydAt a concert Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Cyrus sang “Can’t Be Tamed” to a giant, glowing-eyed,  inflatable likeness of the dog.

Afterwards, Cyrus told the audience, “That was the hardest song of the night to do … as y’all know, because I lost my Floydie this week … Sometimes I just can’t stop from breaking down crying.”

It was the second appearance Cyrus has made with the statue, the first coming in a performance in Boston last week.

I sympathize with the singer, and offer my condolences, but I can’t help but notice in her all the same traits I noticed in customers of dog cloning, when I wrote a book on the subject.

She has yet to seek to bring back a laboratory-created copy of a dead dog, as far as I know. But, like most of the early customers who did, she’s wealthy, eccentric, perhaps a tad selfish, wants to control the uncontrollable, and seems to think her grief is somehow larger than anyone else’s.

I can’t help being turned off by those who need to shine a spotlight on their mourning. Call me old fashioned, but I think that should mostly be done in private. Cyrus, it seems, has decided to take her grief — like her navel and tongue and other body parts — public.

In recent years, the singer has gone through dogs at a rapid pace.

In 2012, Cyrus rescued a dog she found abandoned outside a Walmart, and named him Happy. He joined her other three dogs, Floyd, Lila and Ziggy.

A few months later, Lila died of initially undisclosed causes, though Cyrus’ mother later revealed Lila died of injuries received when she was attacked by Ziggy, and that Ziggy had been gotten rid of.

mileyfloydAs she was then, Cyrus was very public, but offered few details, when it came to Floyd’s passing.

The facts behind the dog’s death weren’t revealed until one of her backup dancers posted some photos on Instagram, along with the explanation that Floyd had been the victim of a coyote attack at home while Cyrus was on tour.

Since Floyd’s death, her mother has given her a new puppy, named Moonie.

(Photos: Top, Miley in concert in Brooklyn; bottom, Miley with Floyd;  via Twitter)

Alyssa Milano helps rescue South Korean dog who was destined to become dinner

Alyssa Milano, whose pleas to help feed hungry children can be seen on TV, may be responsible for a South Korean family missing a few meals.

On the other hand, she helped save a dog.

An abused and neglected dog that drew the attention of a South Korean animal rescue group — a dog that the organization said was being raised for its meat — has been flown to the U.S., her airfare covered by the actress.

The Fuzzy Pet Foundation in California acknowledged Milano’s contribution to rescuing the dog in this video , posted on YouTube last week.

The foundation learned of the dog’s situation in April of 2013 when it was contacted by CARE,  a South Korean animal rescue organization that was seeking to find the dog a new home.

The dog, a Jindo who was given the name Bomi (derived from the word “spring” in Korean), was being raised by a family that, after repeatedly breeding her, planned to eat her, officials at the two organizations said.

She had been chained to a metal pole and was covered with mange and open sores, rescuers said. CARE said she had been bred several times, and that a recent litter of her puppies was found dead and frozen. CARE treated Bomi’s skin problems, and went to work trying to socialize her.

After being contacted by the South Korean group, The Fuzzy Pet Foundation began looking into shipping the dog to the U.S., and making arrangements for foster care and veterinary care.

“As responsible rescuers, we wanted to make sure we could provide Bomi with top-notch veterinary care, and secure her a forever home,” said Sheila Choi, founder and CEO of the foundation. “We also wanted to have a proper plan in place so that we were not just naively flying an animal to a different country without considering the animal overpopulation crisis happening everywhere in this world.”

Milano, whose ads for UNICEF seek to raise funds to feed hungry children, offered to pay Bomi’s airfare.

Bomi flew from Seoul to Los Angeles on November 12, and has been living in a foster home.

“This has been a magical time for all of us who have worked so hard to rescue Bomi,” Choi said. “We are truly humbled by Alyssa’s support, and honored to be in the position to save these precious lives.”

A small percentage of South Koreans still eat dog — mostly the poor, but also some well-heeled types who believe dog meat improves their health and renews their vigor. (South Korea is also the capital of dog cloning, though those efforts have been focused on pet dogs, as opposed to livestock dogs.)

Bomi, at last report, was still available for adoption. Inquiries can be e-mailed to info@tfpf.org.

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on ”Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  ”… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room –  no matter how sexy its voice – saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives – though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Brian is back! Family Guy dog is resurrected

brianbackBrian the dog has returned to life on “Family Guy,” with a plot twist anyone could have guessed, and many did.

Writers resurrected the straight-talking dog, killed when he was hit by a car in a recent episode, by taking a somewhat tired route, and — next to “it was all a dream” – the easiest available one.

Stewie, the diabolical Griffin family baby, used his time machine.

He went back in time and pushed Brian out of the way of the speeding car that claimed his life three weeks ago.

Stewie’s time machine has often been part of “Family Guy” storylines. It surfaces again — even though some viewers may remember it being destroyed in another episode — to allow Stewie to reclaim the family dog.

The time machine. How can something that hasn’t been invented yet already be so … dated?

We’d suggested (though far too late) that the writers return Brian by having the family send some of his tissue to South Korea for cloning. Unlike time machines, dog cloning technology — preposterous as it may be — is real and available (if you have $100,000 to shell out).

It would have been a chance for the show to cover some new and edgy issues, to show it was keeping up with the times and, given the realities of dog cloning, the writers could have taken the concept to some pretty interesting places.

Instead they broke out the old time machine.

Brian’s death three weeks ago led to mourning and protest among ”Family Guy” fans.  While many suspected it was only a temporary death — Brian being the show’s most likeable character — a petition on the website Change.org collected over 128,000 signatures from people asking Fox to bring the dog back to the animated comedy series, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Viewers do not like it when the dog dies, even if it’s an animated one.

In Sunday’s episode, “Christmas Guy,” it was revealed that Stewie, by going back in time, was able to save Brian from getting struck by a car. How did he get back in time, given the time machine was broken? He found another version of himself, here from another time, and borrowed that Stewie’s time machine.

Sure it’s a stretch, but then “Family Guy” has always been about stretching.

In this particular instance, we think series creator Seth MacFarlane could have stretched in a different, more interesting, more topical, direction.

But we can’t help but agree with the message he Tweeted to fans about the episode:

“And thus endeth our warm, fuzzy holiday lesson: Never take those you love for granted, for they can be gone in a flash.”

One way Brian could be brought back

brian1

Brian, the family dog in Fox’s long-running animated hit “Family Guy,” died Sunday night when he was struck by a car.

The Griffin family’s faithful dog – a far more level-headed being than any of the human characters on the show — was killed off and, after some grieving, replaced with a new dog, named Vinny.

Brian’s multitude of fans want him back, and so do we (and at the end of this post, we have a suggested story line that would allow him to return, at least in a form).

The death of Brian came Sunday night in the sixth episode of “Family Guy’s” 12th season — and seemed to hit fans of the show hard.

A petition on Change.org is gathering thousands of signatures after being launched Monday by an Alabama fan asking the show to bring back Brian.

“Brian Griffin was an important part of our viewing experience,” the petition reads. “He added a witty and sophisticated element to the show. Family Guy and Fox Broadcasting will lose viewers if Brian Griffin is not brought back to the show.”

Brian, who was an aspiring novelist, was voiced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane; Vinny, the new dog, is voiced by Tony Sirico of “The Sopranos” fame.

The Los Angeles Times wondered whether fans will get to see their beloved dog again, and didn’t rule out the possibility.

Reuters reported that Brian appeared in more than 200 episodes of the show, which averages 6 million viewers an episode.

brian2Brian’s final words were: “You’ve given me a wonderful life. I love you all.”

At Brian’s funeral, Peter Griffin noted, ”Brian wasn’t just my dog, he was my best friend in the whole world.”

We don’t know how much memories of Brian are going to play into upcoming episodes, but we’d guess that — as with any dog owner — it’s going to be hard for the show to just let him go.

And, while it’s too late, we can see some great opportunities — story-line-wise — growing out of his death.

For one, an exploration of what really happens at “Rainbow Bridge.” MacFarlane’s mind, and writers, could have some fun with that.

Better yet, what if it turned out the Griffins had hung on to a hunk of Brian’s tissue, and sent it off to South Korea for a clone to be created. It happens in real life, and it sounds like just the sort of thing Stewie would go for.

Having written a book about it, I don’t favor cloning pet dogs, and generally don’t see it as a laughing matter. But “Family Guy” has always had a way of making things that aren’t laughing matters pretty laughable.

If a clone of Brian were created in a lab, and the family “reunited” with him, would it really be Brian, brought back to life — as those behind cloning initially would have us believe — or just a similar-looking dog with his own distinct personality?

And, assuming writers followed a factual route, and Brian’s clone was not the same character Brian was, how disappointed would viewers be?

It could be a funny and informative route for the show to follow.

As many problems as I have with dog cloning, as blanketly against it as I am, I would have to be in favor of reanimating Brian.

Toying with your affections: Cute, cuddly, and cheaper than real dog clones


It’s a cute and cuddly little idea.

So why does it give me horror-show-like chills?

I was thumbing through the latest issue of The Bark magazine –  print version — when I came to a page devoted to spotlighting new products, including “Cuddle Clones, one of a kind plush animals made to look just like your dog! Capture the essence of your dog in this adorable product…”

Having written a book on dog cloning — the kind that takes place in a laboratory, with pet owners paying $100,000 or more to get genetic duplicates of their dogs – Cuddle Clones struck me as far less expensive, less intrusive and much more innocent way to have your pet re-created. Yet  the concept was still mildly troubling. Leave it to me to find the ominous in something as harmless as a plush toy.

And then to write about it, as if, behind the toy, there is some deeper meaning to be unearthed.

I think, as with real cloning, there may be — in regards to what it says about the essence of dog, and the essence of us.

For starters, you’re not going to recapture the essence of your dog in a stuffed animal, or by stuffing him, or by cloning him.

I’d even go so far to say that, even the most expert of breeders, even if they do manage to ensure many of the same traits are passed from one generation to the next, can’t recapture “essence” — a fuzzy term that, in this case, may be most synonymous with “personality” or ”soul.”

One can breed for looks and traits, but the essence of your dog — what makes him him — is uncapturable. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that what makes him him is all that he has experienced, including, and perhaps in largest part, you.

With cloning — real cloning — I arrived at the point where I viewed it as a selfish pursuit, most popular among wealthy and stubborn people who refuse to to accept that the rules of nature apply to them and their dogs. And I wondered whether, as much as having a dog re-created from a single cell might seem an homage to the original, it’s really an insult, like telling your dog, “You’re instantly replaceable; I can quite easily, if I pay enough, have another you fashioned in a laboratory.”

In reality, the clone, while a living, breathing genetic duplicate, is not the original dog. Though some customers believe otherwise, the original dog’s soul does not occupy it anymore than it would a freeze-dried version of his corpse — another alternative for those who insist on keeping a physical, though unmoving, version of their dog around the house.

Cuddle Clones, being toys, are far less creepy — and if it weren’t for the name I’d probably have no problem with the product.  A plush toy that roughly replicates your living or dead pet is not all that nefarious. And the plush toy company, unlike the real cloning companies, hasn’t directed its marketing strictly at bereaved, or soon-to-be-bereaved pet owners.

That does come up, however, in the “Top 10″ reasons the company gives for buying a Cuddle Clone. (Expect to pay $300, or, for a life-sized version, as much as $850, depending on weight.)

Those reasons, according to the Cuddle Clones website, include:

 ”Your pet is so cute or unique looking that you must clone him or her immediately.”

“Your pet has passed away and you miss hugging him or her.”

“Your daughter can’t bear to leave her best friend behind when she leaves for college or the military.”

“You lost the pet custody battle in a breakup.”

“You’ve wanted to scientifically clone your pet for some time now but can’t quite afford the $50,000 price tag.”

“Cuddle Clones can go places real pets can’t go (work, vacation, the grocery store, nursing home).”

Cuddle Clones aren’t going to wag their tails (at least not yet), or greet you at the front door. For that you’d require a real clone, though we’d advise against it, even if you do have more money than you know what to do with.

Those are manufactured in South Korea, and the price has dropped from the $150,000 the earliest customers were charged to around $100,000.

(How dog cloning came to be, how it was marketed, and the experiences of the first pet owning customers are detailed in my book, “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commerical Dog Cloning Industry.”)

Only one South Korean lab is still offering cloning to pet owners, and it’s working on broadening its customer base — mostly American — by holding a contest in England that will reward a discounted cloning to the person who has the most “special and inspiring” reason for cloning their dog. Contestants are invited to submit essays, photos and videos, and the winner will get a 70 percent discount on the $100,000 price.

It’s sponsored by Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is headed by Hwang Woo Suk, the former Seoul National University veterinarian who headed the team that produced the world’s first cloned dog, Snuppy. Hwang also claimed to have cloned a line of human embryos, but he was fired after those claims turned out to be fraudulent.

After starting his own lab, Hwang teamed up with an American company that held an online auction for six dog clonings and an essay contest in which a free cloning was awarded to a man who said his former police dog found the last survivor of 9-11.

As dog cloning hit the marketplace — actually doing so before dog had even been cloned — some of those who would become the first recipients of clones were chosen at least in part because of their heartwarming stories, which served to put a warmer, fuzzier face on the cold science of cloning.

Small stuffed dogs, all identical, were handed out as a promotional tool by one of the labs. Customers shared their stories, sometimes in exchange for a discount, and marveled at how much their clones resembled the originals.  Then there were the best ambassadors of all — the puppies. Whatever fears and concerns surrounded cloning — from animal welfare issues, to where it will all lead, to the utter lack of government regulation, especially in South Korea — images of nursing and frolicking puppies had a way of pushing them aside.

Cuddle Clones — even just the marriage of those two words — could similarly, if unintentionally, serve to make real cloning more palatable to a public that may not know that dog cloning isn’t cute at all.

It involves the use of numerous dogs for egg harvesting. After the cells of the donor dog are merged with those and — with help from an electric jolt – begin dividing, more dogs yet are needed to serve as surrogates. More than 1,000 egg cells were harvested to clone the first dog. While the process has grown far more efficient, multiple attempts are still required to ensure an exact lookalike is born — into a world where dogs are routinely put down because of overpopulation.

The American company selling clonings — all carried out by Sooam – later shut down for reasons that included concerns about whether proper animal welfare protocols were being followed in the South Korean labs. RNL Bio, the company that cloned the first dog for a customer, has stepped away from dog cloning, citing negative public opinion as one factor.

But canine clones are still being churned out at Sooam, and the price — once $150,000 a shot — is continuing to drop, meaning more people will be able to afford a laboratory-produced replica of their dog.

For those who can’t, there are Cuddle Clones – soft and huggable plushies, filled with synthetic fabrics, that seem to send the message that clones are adorable.

And clones may be just that  – both the real ones and the stuffed ones.

Dog cloning, though, when it comes to the process, is not so pretty, not so heartwarming, and not so cuddly.

You  might even say – though it would be too late — that it’s nothing to toy with.

(Photos: Top three photos courtesy of Cuddle Clones, bottom two photos, of dogs being cloned at Sooam, by John Woestendiek)

Calling all “Freegles”: Beagles rescued from N.J. lab will celebrate one year free

It’s the one-year anniversary for 120 beagles who, around this time last year, learned the true meaning of independence.

Up until then, even here in the land of the free, they weren’t.

Instead, like thousands of other beagles bred and born for the sole purpose of laboratory use, they’d never experienced what most dogs take for granted — things like grass and dirt and running — and were destined, once their use in testing was complete, for something quite contrary to a loving home.

The beagles had been left locked in a research facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J. after its parent pharmaceutical company went bankrupt. When their situation came to light, a judge order the dogs turned over to rescue groups.

One year ago, a group of them were welcomed to Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in New York, where work began on socializing them so they could be adopted out as family pets.

This coming Sunday, some of them will gather for a reunion.

About 35 of the adopters stay in touch on Facebook, offering support and following each others progress through photos and stories.

They — and any of the others who adopted a “freegle,” as they are prone to calling the dogs rescued from the laboratory — are gathering July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at Kennedy Dells Park, 355 North Main Street in New City, New York.

Among those attending will be a beagle named Grace, who has her own Facebook page, called Saving Grace. Grace’s owner said that while word of the reunion has gotten out among those who stay in touch, other beagles adopted from the group are also invited, as well as everyone else who participated in rescuing them.

Shelters, sanctuaries, volunteers and staff are “most welcome to attend and meet the families and hear the stories of how the Freegles have been adjusting to the good life.”

(For questions or to RSVP, send an email to labfreegles@yahoo.com.)

Unlike some boisterous beagles you may know from the dog park, laboratory beagles are generally calm and passive, having never tasted of freedom.

I met several lab beagles while researching my book — including some flourescent beagle clones in South Korea. In Texas, I interviewed the woman who cared for the beagles used in attempting to clone a dog at Texas A&M University.

Jessica Harrison, a graduate student at the time, was in charge of socializing the beagles and finding adoptive homes for them — not usually the case or fate of laboratory beagles — after their services in the lab were no longer required.

“What they teach them is to be still,” she told me. “As puppies, they teach them to just freeze when a person messes with them. We had to kindo of undo that and say, ‘No,we want you to move around and be excited.’

“We slowly exposed them to all the things they’d be exposed to in a family home — like TVs, mirrors, grass, trees, flowers, birds and bees. These dogs had never seen any of that. You put them down on the grass, and they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ It was kind of overwheliming. You get used to it, but at first it’s like, these are dogs, how can they not know these things?”

The use of dogs in laboratory research was declining, but it has jumped up in recent years, with much of the increase due to advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

(Photos: Top photo from the Facebook page of Freegles Justice and Skipper; bottom photo by John Woestendiek)

My dog Ace at “My Dog Tulip”

Ace and I will be appearing at the Aperture Cinema in Winston-Salem this week for a group discussion following the showing of the animated movie, “My Dog Tulip,” based on J.R. Ackerley’s memoir of his relationship with his dog.

I’ll also be talking about, selling and signing my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

If you’re wondering what the human-dog bond, or a memoir about that, have in common with cloning, the answer is:

Everything.

For, in addition to the profits foreseen by entrepreneurs, it was that bond – tighter-than-ever as the 21st Century arrived–  that sparked the attempt to clone dogs, prompted customers to sign up for it and led to the emergence of a fledgling, and highly questionable, pet cloning industry.

And what, after all, is a dog clone but a living, breathing, laboratory re-creation of the past — a memoir you can pet?

The first dog whose cloning was attempted by U.S. scientists, in fact, was a border collie mix who belonged to — you guessed it — a memoir writer. Missy, as it turned out, wasn’t the first dog cloned. South Korean scientists accomplished that first with an Afghan hound, whose clone would be named Snuppy. But Missy was eventually cloned — more than five times.

Cloning wasn’t available in J.R. Ackerley’s day (the British writer died in 1967), but given the love he expressed for his German shepherd, given his many unsuccesful attempts to breed her to another purebred “Alsatian,” given the void she filled in his life and the one her passing left in it, he might have considered it, if it had been.

“Tulip,” whose real name was Queenie — publishers opted to change it, fearing its gay connotations might be too titillating for stuffy old 1950′s England – spent 14 years with Ackerley, and according to some accounts he never quite got over her death. 

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer,” he says in the book, written while she was still alive.

The movie — though, like the book, it doesn’t shy away from dogs’ bodily functions — is charming and charmingly animated, drawn and directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, and narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley. It also features the voices of Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave.

It tells the story of a man who, having all but given up on finding an “ideal friend” in the human world, finds one in a canine — the first dog he’s had in his life.

I’ll be leaving my ideal friend home tonight, but Ace, if he feels up to it, is scheduled to join me at the theater Wednesday night.

The movie starts at 8 p.m., both nights, with the discussion following. The Aperture Cinema is at 311 W. 4th St. in downtown Winston-Salem.

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