Pet-Cloning Business Closes Its Doors

After six years in the pet-cloning business, Genetic Savings and Clone is closing its doors. Despite research and spending millions, the company had only minor success. It cloned a few cats, but was never able to replicate a dog. Nell Boyce reports.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

What would you do if your child's beloved pet died and you knew that you could spare your son or daughter some grief by cloning the animal? That's what Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestled with in the science fiction movie The 6th Day. His character was thinking of cloning the family dog, Oliver. The local mall had a store called RePet, where a salesman gave him the hard sell.

(Soundbite of movie "The 6th Day")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Your RePet Oliver can be exactly the same dog. He'll know all the same tricks you taught him. He'll remember where all the bones are buried. He won't even know he's a clone. And did I mention they're insured?

LYDEN: Okay, that's fiction. But for years a real company called Genetic Savings and Clone has promised to recreate pets. Now, to the chagrin of some animal lovers, the firm is going out of business. NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE: Genetic Savings and Clone has gotten lots and lots of publicity since it was founded six years ago. Lou Hawthorne is its CEO. He promoted cloning as a realistic option for pet owners who had a very special cat or dog. Here's what he said to NPR back in 2004.

(Soundbite of NPR broadcast)

Mr. LOU HAWTHORNE (CEO, Genetic Savings and Clone): If the goal is to get as close as possible to an extraordinary animal, this is the way to do it.

BOYCE: The firm did fund research that produced the world's first cloned cat, a calico named C.C., but just a few clients got cat clones. And although the company kept saying cloned dogs were on the way, none appeared. Now when you call the company you hear this:

Unidentified Man #2: Thank you for calling Genetic Savings and Clone. We are no longer accepting orders.

BOYCE: Some critics of the company think it's great that the firm is closing. Wayne Pacelle is head of the Humane Society of the United States.

Mr. WAYNE PACELLE (Humane Society of the United States): Why do you need this? You've got millions of healthy and adoptable cats that people who want a loving companion can obtain for just a few dollars at a local shelter.

BOYCE: At Genetic Savings and Clone, a cat clone costs $32,000, but some people were interested. Carol Meltzer of Oceanside, New York, is one of the company's customers. She used to have a golden retriever named Lucky.

Ms. CAROL MELTZER (Genetic Savings and Clone Customer): He was just a really good dog, and his smartness made you feel like he was almost human.

BOYCE: She might not have paid tens of thousands for cloning, but she did give the company about $100 a year to preserve Lucky's DNA until cloning became cheap and routine. Now the firm wants to know what it should do with Lucky's DNA. Meltzer could discard it or send it to another company that stores genetic samples. She has mixed feelings.

Ms. MELTZER: When I signed up with the company, I had high hopes that it would be accomplished in a couple of years. And now that, you know, I don't know, so I didn't really decide what to do yet.

BOYCE: It's understandable that she's so uncertain. After all, only one dog has ever been cloned, by researchers in South Korea, and experts in cloning said they don't know of any other scientists who are working aggressively to clone pets.

A few companies now routinely clone pigs and cows, but there's a lot of money in farming, so livestock reproduction has been studied and manipulated for decades. Some biologists think pet cloning will happen eventually. Betsy Dresser has produced 10 clones of endangered wildcats at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans.

Ms. BETSY DRESSER (Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans): You know, science always advances, and knowing what I know about cat cloning, I certainly think that it's a possibility for the future if somebody, you know, wants to take it on and do it for private owners or, you know, people with pet cats.

BOYCE: But if Genetic Savings and Clone couldn't make a go of it after spending years and millions of dollars, it's unclear whether any investors will look at its business model and say, I want to clone that.

Nell Boyce, NPR News.

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