Animal Cloning: At What Cost?

March 23rd, 2009 by Kathy McManus

Is it wrong to clone a dead pet — and shell out $155,000 to do so?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

We’ve barked up this tree before:  how much is too much to spend on your pet?  

$8,000 for kitty’s kidney transplant? 
$12,000 for doggy’s dialysis?
$155,000 to clone a dead Labrador named Lancelot

Sir Lancelot was a yellow Lab that loved bagels, pillows, and shoes. His death last year from skin cancer “devastated” his owners, Ed and Nina Otto. “He was a human dog,” Mr. Otto lamented. “He read your emotions.” 

Years before Lancelot got sick, the Otto’s froze and banked his DNA. Last summer, they turned it over to a company that auctioned off the chance to clone a pet. The Otto’s winning bid: $155,000.

In January, the Otto’s new puppy--a 10-week-old yellow Lab named Lancelot Encore-- flew from South Korea, where he was cloned, to South Florida, where the Otto’s live on 12 acres with nine other pet dogs and various cats, birds, and sheep.

When the clone arrived, so did the criticism: that designing a pet was an irresponsible use of technology, especially when U.S. shelters euthanize millions of unwanted pets each year; and that Lancelot cost a lot. 

“For $155,000, we could do spays and neuters for six months,” said the head of a local Florida animal services department. The Otto’s, however, have been steady donors to the Humane Society in Palm Beach County, giving $300,000 in the last three years—double the cost of the clone. 

But the Humane Society calls cloning “disreputable” and says "cloning cannot replicate an animal’s uniqueness. Cloning can only replicate a pet’s genetics, which influence but do not determine his physical attributes or personality.”

Nina Otto disagrees. “I think he’s Sir Lancelot,” she said of Lancelot Encore. “I know there are a lot of people in this world who think this is an unfair thing to do. I don’t.” 

“Think about this,” said Ed Otto. “You could have your favorite dog with you your entire life. I don’t think that’s too far-fetched.” 

Tell us what you think: Is paying $155,000 to clone a dead pet responsible, irresponsible, or something else? If you have money, does it matter how you spend it?