Friday, January 30, 2009

A Slippery Slope: Do We Really Want To Send In The Clones?

The Ottos seem like very nice folks, and they clearly love animals: on their Boca Raton spread not far from where I write this, they share space with several dogs, cats and sheep--and as of Monday night, Lancelot Encore lives there.

Lancelot Encore, as you might have learned from seeing the Ottos interviewed by Al Roker on "The Today Show," or in any number of newspaper accounts (I read a Miami Herald piece carried in The Palm Beach Post) is the couple's new puppy, a clone of the Otto's beloved yellow Labrador retriever Lancelot, who died a year ago.

Oh, did I mention that they paid $155,000 for Lancelot Encore?

That's what it cost for the Ottos to bid on this, uh, opportunity at an auction mounted by a California bio-tech firm. They won, I guess, and they were certainly prepared: They had taken some DNA samples from the original Lancelot five years ago, apparently with a vision of--and hope for--what came to pass with the arrival of Lancelot Encore.

Leaving aside, at least momentarily, the monumental medical and bioethical questions of cloning animals--any kind of animals for any kind of purpose, ranging from food to companionship--there's a troubling set of issues here for those of us deeply concerned about animals, animal welfare, and the pet overpopulation.

I mean, we all could probably point to a certain animal who's passed away, but whom we consider extraordinary, with whom we forged a singular connection--and whom we'd love to have more time with. I certainly feel that way about an amazing black cat named Otis (after he died, I wrote this tribute).

But I never once gave any thought to cloning him and having Otis 2.0 in my life, even if someone else were picking up the considerable tab.

And I guess that tab is one of the most troublesome aspects here: I'm sure I'll be neither the first nor last to note all the wonderful, important things for animals and animal organizations that could be done with a 150K--from a slew of spy/neuter procedures to all sorts of veterinary services for ailing animals in overcrowded shelters to additions and improvements at such facilities.

Moreover, when many of us have devoted lots and time and energy over numerous years to trying to educate folks about the importance of adopting--never buying, much less from a breeder--animals, the Lancelot Encore scenario seems to be galloping toward the other extreme.

The Ottos suggest awareness of these issues by noting that they donate healthy amounts of dough to local shelters, and the next dog they add to their household will be adopted. Still, for all kinds of reasons, let's hope this story remains an isolated case rather than the start of trend.

And I should hasten to add this is not in any way intended to constitute a knock on Lancelot Encore, who's clearly an enormously attractive guy. A cute clone, as it were.

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