At ReadyMade.com I wrote about the trend of dog cloning, which is the subject of an excellent new book by journalist John Wostendiek, Dog Inc.
Cloning is happening on such a small scale right now that it seems premature to argue for or against it. The world doesn't need more dogs, but the countless dogs being pumped out of puppy mills are a far bigger problem to the general dog population than the one hundred or so cloned dogs that have been made. Should we ever run out of puppies, I know some mutts who'd be happy to work at making more. My dog would knock up the laundry bag if I let him.
If I could take all the funds that have gone into dog cloning and redirect each dollar to a good shelter, or to a subsidized spay/neuter program, I would. I also think we should spend less money on war and more money on education, but the House isn't voting on the budget I submitted. Point is, people spend money on all kinds of things that many people think is less important than whatever is important to them -- in my case, animal welfare. Fancy cars, jets, plastic surgery... Think of all the money going towards hunting gear and fur farms and any number of other industries that result in the blatant killing of animals. At least cloning is a wasteful practice that results in some kind of new life.
People who are commenting on the article are saying that ReadyMade is condoning the practice of cloning. I'm certainly not condoning it, nor is my editor. The only ones who are condoning it are the people who are profiled in the story. Yet I don't judge them as harshly as many of my readers. In this post, I'm hoping to explain why.
I love my dog Amos a lot. A lot a lot a lot a lot. Today is Amos' sixth birthday, and it pains me to think that we probably only have another six or so years to spend together. Cloning currently costs about $100,000. But the technology to successfully clone a dog has only existed since 2005; the commercial business of dog cloning is younger than that and the price has dropped by a third in just the last year. It's a safe bet to say that by the time Amos goes to the great dog run in the sky, dog cloning might be the kind of thing one could do on a blogger's salary.
But even if such a thing were affordable, it's not something I would ever do. The people I discuss in the ReadyMade.com piece are the kinds of people who go to extremes. (Skip to page 2 of the story for a Who's Who of American Dog Cloners). Do I think these people are wacky? Yes. Especially the one who is a beauty-queen-turned-Mormon-rapist. Do I think they are love sick? For sure. Evil? No, not at all. Mainly, I think they are harbingers of a confused era that doesn't lie far ahead.
The cloning process, which involves inserting DNA into a scooped out unfertilized dog egg and then zapping it with electricity and implanting it into a surrogate, is still pretty unwieldy and not at all humane. For every one animal that is cloned in the Korean lab where all this is happening, it's likely that dozens of animals will have to get surgery to get their eggs taken out or put back in -- and none of those bitches volunteered for the job. There are also frequently extra clones that pop up when only one was wanted, and some of these poor souls are languishing in cages while their twins lead more normal doggie lives. In his book, Wostendiek explains that the dog cloning attempts at Texas A&M were ultimately aborted because they couldn't figure out how to do it while also treating the animals in a way that was deemed humane.
But that's not why I won't clone my dog.
Yes, I feel all animals should be treated humanely, but I don't think that rescuing the relatively small number of caged Korean clone mules is going to solve the problem. In fact, they are probably being treated relatively well compared to the dogs that are used for breeding at so called "puppy mills" throughout the world -- dogs that are forced to have ten litters inside cages that they'll never leave alive. There are also many dogs living in research labs throughout the country. Often, they are euthanized when they're no longer needed.
But even those dogs are living better than this world's gabillion enslaved chickens, cows and pigs. I've never really known a cow, chicken or pig. I have, however, eaten many of them. I try to eat ones that supposedly had a better-than-average life (cows who ate grass instead of corn, chickens that supposedly lived outside of cages). I prefer consuming them when they look as little like their original form as possible. Even so, I often lose my appetite the moment I start to think about the life that the moist brown thing on my plate once led. Even the ones that are treated best are still being raised so that we can kill and eat them. And it's not like there's nothing else out there that we could be eating to sustain ourselves.
The fact is that even most household pets aren't even treated as humanely as we'd like. Everyday, I see people who express nothing but love for their dogs but then put a choke collar on them, or leave them home alone for twelve hours at a time or install electric fences. These are effective ways of controlling a dog that is living in a human world, but they are methods that aren't a lot of fun for the dog, especially considering that it wasn't his choice to live in a human-dominated world to begin with. They are housed and fed, yes, but they exist in environments full of punishing situations over which they have little control. The rules they are expected to follow are explained in a language they can't speak; they are often reprimanded for behaving more like dogs than humans. The Korean clone surrogates in their cages are leading less enriched lives, but with so many fewer challenges facing them, it's possible that they're actually happier. And at least none of the humans caring for them are priding themselves on being great dog owners while their pups experience the mental turmoil of wearing a bumble bee costume.
Others are against dog cloning because they feel that it's a crime to go to such lengths to create clones when there are so many shelter dogs that need good homes. This is a good point. But that's not why I won't clone my dog.
The number of dogs that have been cloned in the last six years is just a tiny fraction of the number of dogs that are bred and sold every day; those are industries that cause problems on a much larger scale. Like clones, many of the dogs you'll find at a pet store or at a breeder were created to look a certain way, with little regard to their health. Frequently they are bred in terrible conditions and sold off to people who lose interest once the dogs lose their puppy cuteness. They then wind up in shelters themselves. Most clones, at least, are being made by people who have already shown the ability to care for a dog until the end of its natural life. I'm guessing that the majority of the world's $100,000+ cloned dogs will never see the inside of the SPCA.
But that's not why I won't clone my dog.
One last reason that I've heard against cloning is that it is unnatural to tinker with evolution. This is a hard point to argue, since humans have already messed with dog evolution to the extent that we have. Using plain old canine sperm and vaginas, we've made dogs that have so many health problems that they can only exist because they have us to perform c-sections and wipe their bums. We've bred them to such extremes that you could almost argue that cloning would at least keep the damage from going any further. We've used cloning to curb change in other living things. New apple trees, for instance, are generally grafted from other apple trees in order to create uniform apples throughout orchards. Every red delicious is a clone of every other red delicious tree. Why aren't there commenters up in arms over that!
But that's also not why I won't clone my dog.
The reason I won't clone Amos is that he is irreplaceable. Amos is more than just his DNA. He is the result of six years of sharing life with me and the people I love. To recreate him, I'd need to move back into each apartment we've lived in together. I'd need to calculate exactly how many of my tears he's licked, and re-inflict the mental scars I made when I made him wear snow boots. I'd need to make myself 25 again. If I could than I would.
Amos can only exist now. One day when he is gone, I may love another dog. But it will be a different time and a different love. Clone or not, each animal only has one lifetime. I just feel lucky to be sharing mine with this furry unique specimen sitting at my feet.
Happy Birthday, Amos. May there be many more.