Admit it: you've at least thought about it. Cloning your pet is kind of a pet owner's dream, in a weird way. But did you know you can actually do it? Like, right now?
It sounds like the concept of a science fiction book with a ham-fisted moral about playing God, but it isn't (although I am confident that book exists). It's a real thing you can do, and ViaGen Pets wants to do it for you.
ViaGen Pets is a newer branch of ViaGen, a company that has cloned horses and livestock for 15 years. If you don't work in farming, you may not have known that livestock cloning was a thing. I certainly didn't. But it is an option for livestock or horse owners looking to maximize profitability by identifying and preserving the genetics of top-performing animals.
ViaGen promises to "help you greatly expand the reproductive potential of your top animals, keep up with demand for their semen, embryos and offspring, preserve their genes as insurance against unexpected injury or loss, quickly improve performance, quality, consistency and predictability within your herd, and expand your marketing opportunities."
I asked Lauren Aston, ViaGen's marketing coordinator, a few questions about the business of cloning animals. Ms. Aston told me that ViaGen Pets started about two years ago. Since then, they have cloned approximately 100 pets (puppies and kittens).
How It Works
As the video explains, the first step is to preserve your pet's genes. To do this, a vet takes a small tissue biopsy and sends it to ViaGen. ViaGen cultures new living cells from the sample and then freezes these new cells. This process is called genetic preservation, and it gives you the option of cloning in the future, if you so choose.
If you decide to proceed with the cloning process, ViaGen then takes your pet's cells and replaces the nucleus in a female dog's (or cat's) egg. Then comes "treatment by [ViaGen's] patented process," according to the video, and then the egg and cell join together, and the embryo begins to grow. The embryo is then transferred to a surrogate mother, who gives birth to the cloned pet after a typical gestation period.
The process isn't cheap. The total cost is $50,000 to clone a dog and $25,000 to clone a cat. But the desire to keep a beloved pet around (or at least its clone) is nothing to sneeze at, and ViaGen Pets has dozens of client stories to prove it.
There are, of course, ethical considerations to cloning. First, there's the Jurassic Park question:"just because we can, does that mean we should?" This debate has been going on basically forever, so I won't try to come up with a definitive answer here. This article on Dolly the Sheep and the debate over human cloning (which raises similar concerns as animal cloning does) sums it up nicely.
Beyond that, some people specifically oppose pet cloning when there are many homeless animals already in existence. "There are many who are opposed to any form of reproduction for companion animals since there remain many who are without forever homes," Ms Aston told me. "We fully understand this position and we believe in supporting shelters and adoption whenever possible."
There's also the issue of the surrogate mothers, a question that's also pertinent to dog and cat breeding. Is it ethical to "employ" these surrogate mothers, who have no say in the matter, and who could potentially suffer health risks?
Debates around cloning are nothing new. There are some organizations entirely devoted to ending animal cloning. Cloning brings up countless ethical concerns, including animal welfare and the risks associated with narrowing genetic diversity. It also gives some people a feeling of general creepiness, understandably.
However, Ms. Aston told me they see many clients who are determined to produce an identical twin of their much-loved pet, and that the cloned pet brings them immeasurable joy: "it is difficult to express in words the joy that our clients demonstrate upon receiving their pups or kittens."