More than 20 years after scientists in Scotland first cloned a sheep named Dolly, pet owners can clone their beloved dogs and cats.
Viagen Pets is a Texas-based company that’s been cloning farm animals for fifteen years, and started cloning pets about two years ago.
“It’s really been amazing. We’re the only company in the world right now that clones cats,” said Melain Rodriguiz, a Viagen spokesperson.
The process begins with genetic preservation using a small skin biopsy taken from the animal by a veterinarian.
The tissue sample can be stored and preserved in liquid nitrogen indefinitely for $1,600.
“So it’s a very simple process done under local anesthesia,” said Rodriguiz. “It’s preferred that the samples are taken while the pet is still alive. It can be done postmortem, but in that situation you have to act very quickly, and it can not be frozen.”
The cells are used to create a genetic twin of the animal that’s carried to term inside of a surrogate mom. Rodriguiz says the surrogate animals are treated with the utmost care and then adopted out to good homes.
It costs $50,000 because she says cloning dogs is very difficult.
“A lot of work goes into cloning a dog; it’s one of the hardest species to clone due to reproductive cycles,” she said.
About 200 canines have been cloned so far by Viagen.
Many clients come from overseas, and from all walks of life, cloning both purebreds and mixed breeds.
In September, the first known dog in Ohio was successfully cloned.
The owner asked to be called Kari and spoke exclusively with FOX 8 in an effort to help others considering the process.
Kari and her family have always lived on farms and rescued animals.
In 2001, she brought home an adorable cocker spaniel and named her Baby.
“She was neglected,” said Kari. “Clearly afraid of people, so I held her and it was love at first sight.”
While all of the other rescues had bonded with her husband or children, Baby formed a special attachment with Kari.
When Kari developed medical issues, Baby became a service dog and would alert her to problems.
“We spent every moment together; she was by my side day and night,” said Kari. “My life depended upon her.”
Kari was devastated when Baby passed away in 2016, and typed on the computer what she calls a cyber prayer. “I typed, 'I wish my dog could live forever.'"
That’s how she learned about genetic preservation.
Two years later after a lot of research and sacrifice to pay for the procedure, Baby was successfully cloned.
“She is a carbon copy physically and her personality and mannerisms,” said Kari.
They won’t know for awhile if the new puppy will be another service animal but there is reason to be optimistic.
Viagen says the majority of the clones seem to carry over and/or possess similar and positive traits.
“We have a client that trains dogs for drug sniffing and bomb sniffing,” said Rodriguiz. “He says they’re really exceptional; they seem to need less training, seem to know things without training, so it's amazing.”
Viagen hopes the price will become more affordable someday and for now asks people to keep an open mind.
They say the majority of clients are animal lovers who still rescue dogs and/or donate to charities. Sometimes that’s where they found the original dog.
“People say, 'why not adopt from a shelter?'" said Rodriguiz. “So I don’t think it’s either or it can be both.”