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    « BACK to David Puner's portfolio

    Posted 03.31.05
    Put Pet Cloners to Sleep

    Oct. 2004

    While kitten clones were making their public debut at the Madison Square Garden International Cat show, I saw my first animal gas chamber. The chamber was an austere stainless steel cabinet with lockable wheels and a latch door--kind of like a mini fridge. The rolling death contraption was resting behind a cramped animal shelter (aka: pound) in North Carolina, where almost 1,500 cats and dogs were euthanized last year (most in the chamber; others by lethal injection)--a 58 percent death rate for animals received by the shelter. For stray and surrendered dogs and cats in pounds, the odds of living the good life aren't good; at this shelter, the odds of living at all is less than 50 percent.

    The life of a cloned cat is good. Private-jetting their way to MSG, the marvelous four-month-old cloned kittens, Tabouli and Ganoush, got all-out, P. Diddy-treatment into Teterboro, with limo waiting to whisk them to the big show. What a nice little slice of scientifically-altered life! As Tabouli and Ganoush were living large, genetically original animals nationwide were having their lives terminated in droves--an estimated 4 to 8 million dogs and cats are euthanized annually. In North Carolina, gassing animals to death is common practice.

    I traveled to North Carolina to accompany four dogs northeast, on a two-day, eight-stage journey from death row. On weekends, volunteers around the country participate in these rescue transports--one organization appropriately calls itself the Canine Underground Railroad--moving imprisoned shelter animals to no-kill rescues in areas where animals are more adoptable (regions where pet overpopulation is not as high and spay and neuter policies are established). This particular transport originated from an under funded, understaffed and outmoded shelter. One volunteer organizes the weekly convoys and makes sure each animal has its photo posted on, an Internet hub for homeless pets. The shelter is a subsidiary of the city's police department, and stray animals are not a top priority in the relatively impoverished area. For the shelter's three animal control officers, euthanizing is the worst aspect of their jobs. Someone's got to do it. There is only so much room for so many homeless animals at one time and only so much adoption demand, especially for adult animals.

    So with millions of perfectly healthy living cats and dogs confined to dank shelters with time waning, now seems like the perfect time for pet clones, right? That's what the for-profit Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. is banking on.

    "Genetic Savings & Clone enriches the lives of pet lovers through superior cloning technologies," the company responsible for the first mass-market, cloned animals trumpets on its website. "Cat cloning available today; dog cloning available in 2005." Wasn't this a fake commercial on Saturday Night Live from the Phil Hartman era?

    Nope. Cloned cats cost a cool $50,000. Clones will be given as Christmas gifts this year. Incidentally, three weeks after Christmas, shelters receive their biggest influx of the year, when dogs and cats received as gifts are surrendered--owners no longer wanting responsibility for their new toys.

    A sickening hypocrisy about the cloned kitties appearance at MSG is that one of the main events at the show was AdoptaCat Day (co-sponsored by the Mayors Alliance for NYC's Animals). For six hours, 500 cats from 40 New York shelters and rescues were at the Garden seeking homes while Tabouli and Ganoush danced center-stage.

    Pet lovers should know better than think a clone can replace their beloved dog or cat. Clones are not exact doubles--they have unique personalities. A person so dedicated to a pet that he or she is willing to shell out $50K for a clone, could well afford first making a trip to an animal shelter, before another healthy animal waiting for love suffocates to death in its own bodily fluids. The price of adopting an animal at the shelter in North Carolina is $35--if you adopt via petfinder, it'll cost around $250 and that includes spaying or neutering and shots. By my math, you'll be saving about 50 grand (and a life). That leaves a lot of money left over for Fancy Feast.

    While Tabouli and Ganoush cavort their way into mainstream cloning, millions of healthy shelter animals remain caged--and those are the lucky ones. All there isn't a formula, unadopted dogs and cats at the North Carolinian shelter wind up put to sleep typically within a month of their arrival. Before another healthy homeless animal is needlessly killed, the animal cloners at G S&C need to be put to sleep.