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Welcome to our new series from the Wonderful Dr. Barry Baum, Chief of Staff at Center-Sinai Animal Hospital.  If you have a question for our virtuoso vet, he'd love to see it.  And he will answer all that he can.  Just use the e-mail contact information that follows below, beneath the column. Please note: If you feel the condition of your pet is critical, Dr. Baum suggests you contact your local vet ASAP!

For previous questions and answers, see the buttons under this week's article.




Dear Dr. Baum --

I love my little Yorkie, but he is getting on in years, and I have to face the fact that he will be leaving our planet sometime soon.  I have heard an awful lot about cloning, and would like your advice.  Would it be possible to clone my little Walter? And would it be a good idea?

Many thanks for your advice,
Sandra R, Chicago, IL

Dear Sandra:

Within the next few months pet owners will be exposed to the opportunity to clone their pets.  I was informed so last week by a representative of a company called "Forever Pet" who extolled the virtues of this developing science.  The initial fees for obtaining live tissue for cell banking will cost approximately five hundred dollars and there is a monthly storage fee of $19.95.  The actual cost of doing the cloning is a bit fuzzy at the moment but the company anticipates that the process will be economically viable at a cost of around three thousand dollars--- beginning in the year 2007.  To date, a cat has been successfully cloned and a dog clone may be perfected within a year.  So at this point, the company isn't really a cloning company-- it's in the business of cell banking, waiting for the day that the actual cloning process is commercially available.

I pride myself on being a consumer advocate, very protective of my clients, wary of the scams that are used when the emotional vulnerability of a pet owner can be exploited.  Several interesting facts emerged from the discussion with Forever Pet.  The industry is not regulated and no licensure of facilities is in place.  Most of the research being done is being coordinated through the veterinary colleges at the University of Pennsylvania and Texas A&M.  Professors at both institutions confirmed the validity of their research, but stated that the final product was several years away. 

I had been concerned when I was told that more than half the tissue specimens being preserved for their living DNA had been obtained from elderly pets on the verge of dying or from pets that had died within 48 hours of obtaining the tissue.  My concern was that this old DNA would have a head start on deterioration in the bodies of the new clones thus dramatically effecting their life spans.  Happily the scientists agreed that although genetic material from young donors was easier for them to grow, the actual effects on longevity of the clone were minimal. 

The Texas researchers were taking the cloning process one step further.  They were trying to purrfect a cat that was hypoallergenic!  They had identified a protein in the saliva of the cat, which they claim is the primary stimulant for allergic responses in people.  What is more, however, is that they have specifically identified the gene that produces this protein, and by removing that gene, the cat would produce saliva free of the protein thus rendering it non-allergenic.

There is no doubt in my mind that this process will be perfected.  I have no moral objections to cloning as it is the logical extension of the genetic selection that we presently do to increase the productivity of our livestock or the function and beauty of our pet animals.  My real concern is whether the expectations arising from the cloning can ever be truly met.  So much of our relationship with a special pet is dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It is no mere coincidence that the pets that I have bonded with so strongly were an English Bulldog named PIF (Pushed In Face) who was my constant companion in my single days and the present love of my life, Fessie (the cutest French Bulldog) who came on the scene as my wife, Linda, and I became empty nesters.   The excitement and uniqueness that evolves from your relationship with your pet may be the singlemost argument yet against trying to relive your past with a clone.  As much as I have, and do, enjoy the pets in my life, it is the distinctiveness of the bond that has me looking forward to new experiences in the future.

NEXT COLUMN:  Surprise topic!


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If you are lucky enough to live in Los Angeles when you need a really good vet, you can call
 to set up an appointment with Dr. Baum or another of the highly skilled staff at
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