Last weekend I watched an older sci-fi movie called ‘The 6th Day‘. The movie was set in the ‘very near future’ where DNA cloning had been perfected and become an ordinary accepted part of everyday life. Early on in the story the family dog, Oliver, died and the family discussed going to ‘RePet’ to have him cloned.
Fifteen years ago when this movie was released, pet cloning was still science fiction—but only just. The first real pet-clone was a cat, CC (‘Copycat’ or ‘Carbon Copy’ depending on which article you read) born in 2001. Today there are commercial companies around the world like ‘PerPETuate‘ and ‘myfriendagain‘ offering pet cloning services to ‘reunite you with your best friend’ (all at considerable cost of course—anywhere between $50,000 and $150,000). As I watched the film, I also watched my three lovely girls as they pottered happily around me and wondered whether I (always supposing I ever had a spare $100,000 anyway) would ever consider cloning any of my pets after they had passed on.
It actually didn’t take all that much thinking about. I have adored every one of my pets and grieved hard for them when they passed away, but cloning? Nope, not for me.
I do admit that the science of cloning fascinates me—I am a rabid sci-fi fan after all—but the ‘sci-fi’ science and the ‘actual’ science of today are two very different things. In sci-fi movies the clones (people or animals) always seem to be exact copies, down to the tiniest detail. Their mannerisms, individual quirks and memories are the same as the original. We don’t have human clones yet (and let’s not even go there, please) but today’s pet clones are advertised as being genetically-identical-but-not-exact replicas. So it’s still a bit of a lottery. You might indeed get a dog or cat that looks and acts almost exactly like the one you lost—but you also might not.
Apart from the fact that I believe that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should (animal medical experimentation—a whole other conversation) I can see why creating a dog clone might be considered an option if you are trying to replicate genetically gifted animals—say search and rescue dogs or cancer smelling dogs. But if, and it seems this is mostly the case, people are cloning their pets ‘to get their best friend back’ I can only feel that they are setting themselves up for major disappointment. We are all, every one of us, the sum of our life experiences, the people we have met, the things we have done, the places we have been. Surely our pets are the same? And if this is true, how could a dog-clone, no matter how closely related to the original, possibly be the same as the dear friend you lost?
A long time ago—in a galaxy far far away—I took Harry, my first dog, out to a friend’s farm where a crowd of us were meeting up for a barbecue. After lunch we all decided to go for a ramble around the property. Harry, who was only about 3 months old at the time, was having a ball. There were lots of friendly people around to give him pats. He had been eating sausages all afternoon. And, best of all, he was running with the big boys—the farm dogs, 3 large rough and tumble kelpies—who chased him, nipped him, rolled him over and over and played with him for hours. He was in dog heaven.
And then we got to the dam. The dam was a vast crater dug into the paddock. It had high, rough, earthen sides which were flattened along the top, and the water was dark, deep and muddy. The farm dogs dived in right away and a few of us sat along the top of the dam to watch them swimming and splashing about. Harry desperately wanted to join them but he was nervous. He’d never seen that much water in one place before. My friend asked me if Harry could swim and I said he hadn’t tried—there weren’t a lot of swimming spots where we lived. Without missing a beat my ‘friend’ picked Harry up by the scruff of the neck and tossed him, unceremoniously, into the dam. I remember being horrified, appalled and so shocked I couldn’t speak. All I saw was Harry sailing through the air and disappearing into the dark, murky water.
Seconds later he was up, and swimming for his life. He made it to the edge of the dam, staggered out, shook himself vigorously and, without so much as backwards glance, took off after the other dogs who were now running up the steep banks to the top of the dam. Once he reached the top he did one excited madcap circuit of the crater at full speed and then, with no hesitation at all, launched himself into space and into the water again. (I swear I aged 10 years that afternoon.)
Before long everyone watching was cheering him on and giving his soaring bellyflops ratings out of ten. (It took him a while to work out that he could get into the water from the bottom of the dam as well, and he didn’t actually have to fly in from a great height). Harry continued to toss himself haphazardly and delightedly into that dam for the rest of the afternoon and it was only exhaustion (mostly mine) that eventually stopped him. On the drive home my lovely, muddy, filthy, smelly little boy slept like a stone, with his tongue hanging out and a huge smile on his face.
Although I don’t condone the action of hurling my puppy into a dam (the memory of it still makes me shudder) that was the day Harry began his life-long love affair with water. From that day forth Harry would, at the slightest opportunity, fling himself exuberantly into any puddle, pond, fountain or river he came across. He would even just stick his whole head in a bucket of water if that was all that was available. Of course, not everyone we met over the next 19 years thought this as amusing or adorable as I did and I often had a lot of ‘splaining to do‘, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Would a Harry-clone have the same love for water that my original-Harry had? Very possibly. But the experiences Harry and I shared over the years can’t be so easily duplicated, and that’s what makes our dogs, and cats and other pets so dear to us. I have absolutely no doubt I would love a Harry-clone just as much as the original—I am a sucker for loving any and all dogs—but it wouldn’t be because he was a replica of ‘my’ Harry. He couldn’t be, and I shouldn’t expect it of him.
So cloning? Not for me. I honestly don’t think you need a clone to mend a broken heart. Grieve for the friend you have lost. Remember all the funny, sad, exciting, ‘oh-my-god’ moments you had together, and, when you are ready, open up your heart and home to another (perhaps one of the many, many sad, lonely, neglected or abused dogs and cats already in the world) and, over time, they will mend your heart for you . . .