Trackr the Most Cloneworthy Dog: Best Friends Again?

According to recent media reports, a competition to find the world’s most cloneworthy dog has been organised by the American firm BioArts International http://www.bioarts.com/about_us.htm. BioArts has a subsidiary, Encore Pet Science, which now offers a commercial dog cloning service. The world’s first commercially cloned god, Lancelot Encore, was born late last year and cost US$155,000-. However, Encore Pet Science are now offering to clone dogs for a mere $138,500-. Encore Pet Science also offer a gene banking service, which enables cloning to occur long after the death of an animal.

 

The competition to find the world’s most cloneworthy dog offered the winning owner the chance to have their dog cloned for free. Of the many entrants, the German Shepherd Trakr was judged to be the most cloneworthy, as result of his heroic efforts at Ground Zero following the 2001 collapse of the World Trade Center, where he worked non-stop for 48 hours and found the last survivor in the rubble. Trackr has also helped recover over $1 million in stolen goods in a long career as a working police dog. Trackr has been rewarded for his efforts by the creation of five cloned puppies, Trustt, Valor, Prodigy, Solace and Déjà vu.


 

The competition to find the most cloneworthy dog was a competition organised as a promotion for BioArts, which has attracted much publicity. Much of the publicity has been positive. I don’t know what Trackr’s competition was like but, by common consensus it seems that he is a very worthy winner of the competition. However, some of the publicity has been negative. As well as familiar arguments against the use of new biotechnologies that raise the issue of humans ‘playing God’, there are concerns about the expenditure of very large amounts of money on creating particular dogs when many other dogs are unwanted and end up being neglected or euthanized in animal shelters.

 

What concerns me is the reasoning that motivates those who want to clone their beloved pets. I suspect that the people who are willing to pay huge sums to have a clone of their pet fail fully to appreciate that they are not getting their old pet reanimated, but that they are getting a different animal, albeit a genetically identical new animal. BioArts appears to encourage this sort of thinking, most obviously with their ‘Best Friends Again’ program (see; http://www.bestfriendsagain.com/ ). Although the description of cloning available at this website clearly states that a clone is a genetic duplicate of an animal, the title ‘Best Friends Again’ strongly suggests that the emotional appeal of cloning a pet is precisely that an owner can extend their relationship with a beloved animal beyond the term of that animal’s natural life.

 

Clones are not identical with the individual that they are cloned from and will not tend to behave in the exact same ways as the individual that they are cloned from. (That genetic duplicates can and do behave very differently from one another should be apparent to the many of us who have met identical twins.) Imagine if we were to respond to the death of humans close to us by cloning them at the time of death and attempting to be ‘best friends again’. People who did respond this way would either be very confused about issues of personal identity or would have had an extremely shallow relationship with the best friend in question, such that the changes in behaviour that would result from replacement by a genetic duplicate could go unnoticed. The same holds for close relationships with pets. A clone of a pet will tend not to behave exactly like the pet that it was cloned from, and even if it did it would still not be the same pet that it was cloned from. There might be good reasons to clone particular animals, but wanting to be ‘best friends again’ is not one of them.

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