Dog-cloning project linked to Arizona millionaire First test subject, Missy, is believed to be his pet

September 05, 1998|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

AUSTIN, Texas -- An Arizona millionaire may be the mystery donor of $2.3 million for a dog-cloning project at Texas A&M University.

Dog registration and other records suggest that John G. Sperling, founder of the for-profit University of Phoenix, owns Missy, the husky-mix standing first in line to be cloned.

Sperling, 77, whose prior scientific endeavors include involvement with the sealed-habitat Biosphere project, did not return phone messages left at his home and office.

A&M officials say they are contractually bound to keep secret the identity of their benefactor, who gave the money on condition that Missy be the test subject. Despite efforts to throw reporters off the scent, a trail of records points to Sperling and a California woman as the self-styled "parents" of the famous pooch.

Consider the facts:

A spokesman for the cloning project has said Missy was an 11-year-old spayed mutt residing with a couple in the San Francisco Bay area.

For a January profile of Sperling, his son told a newspaper reporter that his father lives alone with his dog, Missy.

Tax rolls show Sperling, who lives in Phoenix, also owns homes in San Francisco and nearby Watsonville. People who live there say the rugged seashores near Watsonville match those where Missy is shown romping in pictures on the project's Web site, www.missyplicity.com.

Also, Santa Cruz County humane society officials confirmed that the dog tags pictured on Missy's collar match those issued in that area.

Finally, registration records show that a neutered mixed-breed Husky named Missy is listed at Sperling's address in Watsonville, in the name of Joan Hawthorne.

Hawthorne, 68, is described by people who know Sperling as a longtime acquaintance of his.

Perhaps the strongest public connection between Sperling, Hawthorne and the Missy project: Hawthorne is the mother of Lou Hawthorne, spokesman for the private company handling the Missy project.

Lou Hawthorne has described himself publicly as Sperling's stepson. In the early 1990s he worked on a Biosphere documentary commissioned by Sperling and the University of Phoenix.

Despite his relatively low profile, Sperling's name has shown up in recent years as a donor of hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups seeking to legalize marijuana for medical use.

He is a former economics history professor with degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Cambridge University in England.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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