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Tag: laboratory

A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.

Dog clones: Now made in America


Just as the earliest efforts to clone a dog in America didn’t make a huge splash, news-wise, neither did the recent birth — nearly 20 years later — of the first made-in-America canine clone.

ViaGen, a genetic preservation company in Texas, announced at the end of July that the first successful cloning of a dog in America had led to a birth, and that the Jack Russell terrier pup had been delivered to clients.

Chances are you haven’t read about it — because hardly anyone has written about it.

Including me — the guy who wrote that dog cloning book.

I received an email Monday containing the press release announcing the successful cloning. It came from Andrew Lavin, a public relations consultant in New York who handles publicity for ViaGen. It was dated Sept. 12 and included the photos of the clone, named Nubia, that you see here.

When I checked online to see what news coverage the announcement had received, I found almost none — only an “article” in Pet Age magazine (actually a verbatim reprint of the company press release) in July.

When I called ViaGen’s Austin offices to clear up some of my confusion I was told the press release had originally been issued at the end of July, and they didn’t know why the one I received had been re-dated to Sept. 12.

When I asked why the announcement had not received greater news coverage, the person on the phone said only, “It was a soft press release.” She didn’t explain what that meant.

(I can only guess it means a press release sent to a limited few, vague and fuzzy on the details, and accompanied by a “we’re not going to answer any questions” attitude — one that is low-profile enough to not arouse any detractors, such as the many animal welfare organizations that frown on cloning pets, saying it is cruel to animals and exploits bereaved pet owners.)

When I asked ViaGen for more information about the cloning, I was told, “all media requests go through Andy,” meaning Andrew Lavin.

He eventually returned my call and answered my email, explaining that he had “updated” the original press release — and therefore changed the date on it.

He did seek answers to my questions and sent me ViaGen CEO Blake Russell’s responses to them. Russell sidestepped far more than he answered.

nubia1The owners of the clone are not being identified — apparently not even the state or country where they reside.

Their original dog is deceased, but they were able to have her cloned with tissue samples taken by her vet when she was spayed.

Asked where the other dogs that are needed to produce a successful clone came from — dogs in heat from whom egg cells are harvested, and female dogs who serve as surrogates — Russell said ViaGen Pets purchases oocytes from an unnamed provider and that “ViaGen Pets uses a production partner to supply the needed surrogates.”

Presumably, the merging of egg and donor cells and the surgeries necessary were performed at ViaGen labs in Texas.

Texas, by the way, is where the whole crazy idea got started — though it wasn’t pulled off until scientists in South Korea cloned the world’s first dog.

Here’s the condensed version:

Shortly after the birth of the world’s first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 1996, the wealthy founder of the University of Phoenix, John Sperling, decided that cloning his girlfriend’s dog, Missy, would make for a lovely gift.

He teamed up with his girlfriend’s son, Lou Hawthorne, to find a learning institution that would be interested in cloning the world’s first dog.

They chose Texas A&M University and funneled millions into the project.

For years, from 1998 to 2002, researchers there tried to clone a dog. They were able to clone the world’s first pig, cat, bull and goat, but dogs, they found, were extra difficult.

Hawthorne had high hopes of turning the cloning of pet dogs into a big business, and it was during this time that he launched Genetic Savings & Clone, a company that, like Viagen, stored the cells of pets whose owners thought they might someday want a clone.



The research project at Texas A&M, eventually, was dropped, but the quest was picked up by Seoul National University in South Korea, which produced the first dog clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

The thousands produced since then — most often for bereaved pet owners seeking a duplicate of the dog they lost — have all been made in South Korean laboratories.

At one point, two Korean companies were producing dog clones for customers, and one American company was selling dog cloning, too.

Bio Arts, a company Hawthorne started in hopes of cloning dogs on its own, ended up teaming up with one of the Korean companies, Sooam, led by former Seoul National University scientist Hwang Woo Suk, to provide clones to American customers.

Among the first of those shipped back to the U.S. was a clone of Missy, which he presented to his mother, Sperling’s girlfriend.

She noted the puppy was ill-behaved, and said she didn’t want it.


Surgery at Sooam

Hawthorne later pulled out of the partnership with Sooam, 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.

“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.

In an interview with the Mirror, Hawthorne referred to the vast numbers of dogs that it took — up to 80, he said — to clone just one. And he confirmed that, as my book reported, Korean cloning researchers borrowed dogs from dog farms — farms where dogs are raised for their meat — for the process.

Today, only one of the Korean companies is still in operation.

https://www.amazon.com/Dog-Inc-Uncanny-Inside-Cloning/dp/1583333916Another Korean company that paved the way for cloning pet dogs — and provided the first clones to an American customer — 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.”

ViaGen’s successful cloning of a dog lessens the likelihood of dog cloning fading away; instead it brings the process to American shores, and offers it at a much reduced price — $50,000 instead of the initial $150,000 the Korean companies charged.

ViaGen Pets says it is now the only American company offering pet cloning services — and says they are doing so “in full compliance with all U.S. regulatory standards and humane pet care practices.”

The are no federal laws against cloning dogs, or for that matter, humans, in the United States.

ViaGen,a long-time cloner of livestock, produced its first cloned cats for customers last year and it has been banking the cells of pets for more than a decade.

The company says the birth of Nubia will likely increase demand for cloning and genetic preservation of companion pet DNA.


President Blake Russell said the company has already genetically preserved almost 1,000 pets and that there is a waiting list for the cloning procedure.

“The potential to have an identical twin to something that was very important and special in your life is an unprecedented opportunity and has brought a lot of joy to pet owners,” Russell says in the press release.

In addition to the cost of cloning, ViaGen charges a $1,600 fee and $150 a year to store tissue samples from pets whose owners may someday want to clone them.

The cloning procedure involves injecting cells harvested from the original dog into egg cells harvested from female dogs, a jolt of electricity to help them merge, and implanting the resulting embryo into a surrogate mother dog who carries the pup to birth.

ViaGen says a cloned puppy or kitten is “simply a genetic twin born at a later date, and should share many of the original’s attributes, including intelligence, temperament and appearance.”

The South Korean company guarantees only that the appearance will be identical, or nearly identical — but they often achieve that by producing multiple clones.

Many of dog cloning’s customers have come from the U.S. and the U.K. — and up to now they have been turning to Sooam Biotech to clone their dogs.

Most animal welfare organizations oppose the practice, pointing to the number of other dogs it takes to produce a clone, the intrusive procedures, the creation of surplus clones, and the sometimes nightmarish results. They also say pet cloning companies are exploiting the grief of bereaved pet owners.

There has been little outcry from them about the fact that dog cloning is now being done in America. Then again, it’s a development of which many people — possibly having missed that “soft” press release — aren’t aware.

In any case, it appears an American-born idea has finally — for better or worse — come to fruition in America.

(Photos of Nubia courtesy of ViaGen Pets; photos of Snuppy and a cloning underway at Sooam by John Woestendiek)

NY law will require educational institutions to find homes for dogs used in research

Dogs used in scientific research would need to be considered for adoption before they can be routinely euthanized under legislation passed this week in New York.

The measure — focused on beagles because they are most commonly bred for research use — has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law, WGRZ reports.

The Research Animal Retirement Act — also referred to as the “Beagle Freedom Bill” — would require all educational institutions that use dogs or cats in research to establish adoption programs.

The law would mandate that a veterinarian determine whether a beagle or other animal that is no longer useful to researchers is medically suitable for adoption. If approved for adoption, the animal would then be shipped to a shelter or given to an interested owner.

Similar laws have been passed in Nevada, California, Minnesota, and Connecticut.

“This bill, once it is signed into law, will mean that research animals will have a chance at a second life,” said one sponsor of the legislation, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan.

“All animals, being freed of their testing responsibilities, should be afforded the opportunity of a loving, forever home to live the remainder of their days,” said another, Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Suffolk County.

The The Beagle Freedom Project — whose work is featured in the video above — has mounted campaigns in several more states to get the law passed.

The New York law requires publicly-funded higher education research facilities to take reasonable steps to provide for the adoption of dogs and cats when they are no longer being used for scientific research.

While federal laws regulate animal research, they do not protect dogs and cats from being euthanized when their services are no longer needed.

Some research facilities, however, have instituted their own adoption programs.

“These dogs and cats deserve to live normal lives as companion animals once their time in the laboratory ends,” said Brian Shapiro, New York state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

“People who have adopted former research dogs and cats can attest to the resilience and affection of these animals once they are given the chance to flourish in a home environment,” he said.

And then there were two: Class B dog dealers are all but gone, HSUS says

From 2/25/2013 to 5/24/2013, an HSUS investigator worked as a Husbandry Technician at Georgia Regents University (GRU). During her time at GRU, the HSUS investigator cared for rodents, primates and dogs. She also documented violations of: the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). NIH's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. The dogs were used in a dental implant experiment: at the end of the experiment the dogs were killed. The primates were being used in various experiments. Some of the primates exhibited stereotypical behaviors (i.e. pacing, doing "flips" in their cages, pulling out and eating their hair, etc. One primate drank his urine from his penis). The dogs came from Kenneth Schroeder (Wells, MN), a Class B Dealer currently (8/28/2013) under investigation by the USDA. Keywords: dog, end animal testing, ARI, animal research issues, Class B

The largest of the country’s three remaining Class B dog dealers — those often unscrupulous sorts who scrounge up dogs and sell them to laboratories for use in experiments — is going out of business.

The Humane Society of the United States reported yesterday that Ohio-based dealer Robert Perry has cancelled his license with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That means only two licensed “random source” dealers remain. Class B, or random source, dealers round up dogs from flea markets, shelters, auctions, Craigslist and other sources and sell them to research institutions.

“These merchants of cruelty are on their last gasps, and this announcement gets us one big step closer to the complete demise of this sordid trade,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States,  writes on the HSUS blog, A Humane Nation.

Perry has been supplying dogs for years to a number of institutions, including Ohio State University. Between October 2013 and October 2014, OSU purchased nearly 50 dogs from Perry, making him the biggest random source supplier of dogs used in research nationwide.

Of the two remaining Class B dealers, one had only four dogs in its most recent inventory and the other is facing formal enforcement action from the USDA, according to HSUS.

At one time there were more than 200 licensed Class B dealers in the United States. By 2013, as a result of a decline in the use of dogs in laboratories and opposition from groups like HSUS, Last Chance for Animals, the Doris Day Animal League, and the Animal Welfare Institute, that number was down to six

Last year’s announcement from the National Institutes of Health that it would no longer fund research that used random source dogs served as a final nail in the coffin for Class B dog dealing.

The NIH decision stemmed from a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences that found random source dealers could not guarantee that people’s pets would not end up in laboratories.

Those dogs who are bred for laboratory research — commonly beagles — weren’t directly affected by that decision, but, as Pacelle notes, they are being used less often by laboratories, too.

“The continuing and rapid decline of these random source Class B dealers means the chances of pets ending up in laboratories are now very low,” Pacelle said.” And we’re perhaps closer to the day when fewer dogs of any kind are used in testing and research.”

(Photo: A “random source” dog that was used in dental experiments at Georgia Regents University that were the subject of an HSUS investigation; courtesy of HSUS)

Wayne State urged to end dog experiments


A physician’s organization led a rally this week urging Wayne State University to end its long-running series of cardiac research experiments on dogs.

About 45 people joined in the protest, led by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

According to the nonprofit organization, the heart failure experiments have been going on for 20 years, at a cost to taxpayers of about $8 million, and have provided no information beneficial to treating human heart disease.

No dogs leave the program alive.

“These research experiments have not garnered anything that has advanced human health,” said Jennifer Giordano, a Detroit-area doctor representing the committee. “We want them to use human-relevant research methods.”

In the experiments, heart problems are induced in the dogs by the use of implanted electrodes, which cause their heart rates to more than double.

The dogs are then put through multiple surgeries and are required to run on treadmills. About 25 percent of the dogs die during or after the surgery. Those who do survive are euthanized when their participation is no longer needed.

The experiments are funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

At the Wednesday rally the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine presented a letter signed by actress Lily Tomlin to Wayne State University officials, calling on them to end medical experiments on dogs. Tomlin is a Detroit native and attended the university.

In the letter, Tomlin wrote: “I understand that Wayne State is spending millions of taxpayer dollars using dogs in heart failure experiments that have not benefited human health in any way. I urge you to end these senseless experiments as soon as possible.”

A copy of the letter was given to Matt Lockwood, a university spokesman who came to the rally and a read a statement defending the experiments, the Detroit News reported.

“Almost every medical advance in the last 100 years was due to research on animals — chemotherapy, hip replacements, transfusions, dialysis — was all tested on dogs,” Lockwood said. “We need to continue to do research to advance science.”

He said the animals in the experiments are under the constant supervision of veterinarians.

“There’s a committee that’s sole purpose is to ensure the animals are as comfortable as possible,” he said. “We’re also under the oversight of the federal government and the state. Never once has any animal been found to have been mistreated at any time.”

He said the dogs are euthanized after taking part in the experiments, but he declined to provide numbers.

(Photo: Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

A drug to make your dog live longer?


Two University of Washington scientists think it might be possible to slow the aging process in canines and are launching a pilot study with 30 dogs to see if the drug rapamycin significantly extends their lifespans.

The researchers, using $200,000 in seed money from the University of Washington, plan to use pets, not laboratory animals, for the initial study, and recruit volunteer dogs — or at least dogs whose owners volunteer them — for larger scale studies in the future.

Daniel Promislow, an evolutionary geneticist, and Matthew Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist, say the study is aimed at determining whether rapamycin could lead to longer lives for dogs — as studies have shown is the case when it’s used on yeast, fruit flies, worms and mice.

“We’re not talking about doubling the healthy life spans of pets,” said Kaeberlein. “But at a minimum I would predict that you would get a 10 to 15 percent increase in average life span, and I think bigger effects are possible.”

In the pilot study, 30 large, middle-aged dogs will be involved — half receiving low doses of rapamycin, half receiving placebos.

The researchers say that subsequent studies will seek to enroll pet dogs from across the country.

Kaeberlein and Promislow hosted a meeting in Seattle last week where experts from across the country discussed the drug rapamycin and its possible effects on the health and longevity of dogs, the Seattle Times reported.

Currently used along with other medications to prevent rejection in organ-transplant patients, rapamycin has been called a promising anti-aging drug — though there have been no studies involving humans.

But almost 50 laboratory studies have shown that the compound can delay the onset of some diseases and degenerative processes and restore vigor to elderly animals, extending life spans by 9 to 40 percent.

Rapamycin functions, in part, by inactivating a protein that promotes cell growth. As a result, cells grow more slowly, which retards the spread of cancer.

Promislow, who has two elderly dogs of his own, noted that even if the drug doesn’t increase the life span of dogs, it could serve to keep them healthy longer. “We’re trying to understand why some dogs age better than others, and help all dogs age in a better way,” he said.

The drug has been shown to have serious side effects, including poor wound healing and an increased risk of diabetes, when used at the high doses required for organ transplant patients.

But the low doses used in anti-aging research with mice and other lab animals cause few side effects.

There have been no large-scale human trials. Studying how the drug affects dogs — who suffer many of the same old-age ailments as their masters — makes it possible to explore the possible benefits of rapamycin both more quickly and at a lesser cost.

If it does turn out to be a sort of  fountain of youth — for dogs, humans, or both — the potential profits would be enormous.

“I think it’s worth a go, not just from what it can teach us about humans, but for the sake of the animals themselves,” said University of Alabama Biology Department Chairman Steven Austad, an expert in aging research who is not involved in the project. “It may not work in dogs, but if it did, boy, it’s going to be huge.”

According to the Seattle Times article, drug companies aren’t very interested in rapamycin because it’s no longer under patent.

But the researchers are hoping dog lovers, dog-food companies and some foundations might be willing to contribute to further research.

They’ve set up a website, dogagingproject.com,where people can donate and sign their dogs up to take part in the research.

“Given how I feel about my pets, I see this as a unique project where there’s a real potential for citizen science,” Kaeberlein said. “I think it would be great if pet owners who are really interested in improving the health of their animals would help fund this work.”

(Photos: UW scientists Matt Kaeberlein, with his dog Dobby, and Dan Promislow, with his dog Frisbee; by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

The last living 9/11 search and rescue dog?


A golden retriever named Bretagne is all over the Internet today — today being 9/11 — looking much grayer around the muzzle than she did in 2001 and being described as the only search and rescue dog at the World Trade Center who is still living.

Whether that’s accurate depends on how you define “living.”

Not to pick nits, but there’s another dog, a German shepherd named Trakr — said by some to have found the last human survivor of the World Trade Center attack — who lives on … in a way.

Trakr was cloned in 2009, after his owner, a police officer turned actor, won an essay contest seeking the world’s most “cloneworthy” dog.

Five little clones of Trakr were born, after Trakr’s death at age 16 in 2009, and arrived in the U.S. from the Korean laboratory in which the procedure took place.

It’s a long story, one you can read about in the book, “DOG, INC.,” which recounts how dog cloning became a commercial enterprise.

Here’s the short version: Trakr was the partner of  James Symington, a Halifax, Nova Scotia,  police officer. When Trakr was retired, Symington claimed him as his own. On Sept. 11, 2001, after seeing news reports, Symington, without authorization from his department, took Trakr to the World Trade Center.

There, as Symington recounts it, Trakr discovered Genelle Guzman buried in the rubble — the last survivor found.

Others dispute his account.

Symington later moved to California to pursue a career in acting, taking Trakr with him. When an American company called BioArts announced it was holding a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” Symington submitted an essay, and won.

BioArts footed the bill (about $150,000) and sent samples of Trakr’s DNA to South Korean veterinarian Hwang Woo-Suk, who was on the team at Seoul National University that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy. He’d since been fired and opened his own laboratory, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

Trakr’s DNA was inserted into five “surrogate” egg cells, each of which was zapped with electricity and implanted into a different female dog.


In June 2009 five clone puppies were born and, a few months later, delivered to Symington. He named them Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu, and said he planned to train them all as search as rescue dogs who would carry on Trakr’s legacy.

They seem to have fallen out of the limelight since then, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated for a couple of years.

Earlier this year, the man who pushed dog cloning and sponsored the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in an apparent turnaround, said cloning dogs — a service still offered in South Korea — was not a viable, profitable, or humane pursuit, noting that it took up to 80 dogs to clone just one.

Lou Hawthorne headed BioArts, and spearheaded the earliest (unsuccessful) efforts to clone dog at Texas A&M University. That research was funded by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, who died last month.

While some of the main characters involved in dog cloning seem to be fading from public view, from Trakr’s clones to Sperling, dog cloning is not — Sooam Biotech is still carrying out clonings for customers who want duplicates of their dead or dying pets, at a price that has dropped to about $100,000.

But back to the dog who is in the news — Bretagne. She returned this week to the site of the former World Trade Center complex with her longtime handler and owner, where they were interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC’s Today Show.

Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”) is one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards, and later this month she’ll travel with her owner to Beverly Hills for the awards ceremony.

My hunch, and hope, is that Bretagne is not destined to be cloned, and that her owner realizes what many customers of dog cloning have not — every dog, and every person, is one of a kind. And one of a kind means one of a kind. That special something inside your dog can’t be re-created in a laboratory.