Scratching heads over cat-cloning fever

February 18, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

LET'S SEE if I understand this latest bulletin from the brave new world of pet-cloning.

Say I have a cat. (OK, that'll never happen -- I'm a dog person -- but let's pretend.)

And say this cat's name is, oh, Muffy.

Muffy and I have a long life together. We bond, become kindred spirits, etc. Muffy is everything to me.

Then one day, I notice Muffy doesn't look so good. In fact, she looks like she's about to check out any minute.

So I scrape a few of her cells and throw 'em in the freezer next to the cans of Minute Maid orange juice and the Eggo waffles.

And when Muffy croaks, those cells are used to clone a new and improved Muffy.

Muffy II, I call her.

Anyway, Muffy II and I have a long life together. We bond, etc. Then one day, she's not looking so hot, either.

So I scrape a few of her cells and toss 'em in the fridge. And after Muffy II heads off to that big kitty litter box in the sky -- ta-daaa! -- Muffy III arrives to keep me company.

Is that where we're headed with this?

Well, judging from the big announcement the other day that researchers at Texas A&M University have produced the first cloned cat, a calico named cc, it appears we are.(cc, by the way, stands for "copycat," which proves that even beaker-rattlers in white lab coats have a sense of humor now and then.)

Oh, the researchers stressed that pet cloning on a grand scale won't be happening right away.

They said the cloned pet wouldn't be a carbon copy of the original. It'll have the same genetic makeup, sure. But it may not have the same color pattern, disposition, etc.

"This is a reproduction, not a resurrection," one of the researchers said.

In other words, just because the original Muffy provided you with hours of entertainment swinging from the drapes and clawing the couch, don't assume Muffy II will do the same things.

But it was also clear this cloning breakthrough would be hailed by lots of lunatic pet-owners who have had their dead Muffys or Fidos freeze-drying for years and now hope to bring them back.

To which I say: Man, you people need to get a life.

Me, I'm 100 percent behind the Humane Society of the United States on this pet-cloning business.

"We're very unhappy about this development," Wayne Pacelle, the Society's senior vice-president, told me Friday. "And we believe it portends trouble."

In a nutshell, here's the Humane Society's stance: You love your cat. Your cat dies. Go to a shelter and get a new cat.

Don't swing by the lab with a Tupperware container full of cat cells and have one made.

As Pacelle points out, there are millions of cats in shelters all over this country looking for a home. By adopting a cat, he said, "You're saving an animal from being killed."

As an animal person, Pacelle appreciates the powerful bond people form with their pets, and the initial enthusiasm they might have for cloning after the pet dies.

"It's an understandable response," he said. "You love the animal, and you're grieving, and you want to hang on [to its memory]. But this is the wrong way to hang on."

Pet cloning, he said, is "science without ethical boundaries." It in- terrupts the natural cycle of life and death.

"And for no good reason," he said. "What's wrong with diversity, the surprises animals bring, the distinctive personalities they have that are so rewarding?"

Nothing wrong with that to me.

Personally, I think Pacelle is being too charitable with these knuckleheads who want to keep their pets with them forever.

To me, it's symptomatic of the spoiled yuppie attitude so pervasive in our society. God forbid we have to handle any pain or disappointment, like the passing of an animal.

Instead, let's stamp our feet and wail: My pet's gone! I can't live without him! I'm bringing him back!

Besides, if I ever want to see cloning used, which I don't, it would be to give us another Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King or Gandhi. Not another cat or dog.

So spare me any more details about this grand cat-cloning experiment in Texas.

Oh, I guess it's interesting to know the little cloned kitten is healthy and frisky at 8 weeks old.

But I hope it doesn't start a wave of pet cells ending up in Ziploc bags next to the roast in the freezer, waiting for the day when the local Clones R Us opens.

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