An Arizona man just became the first in the state to clone his dog.
Rich Hazelwood, who owns the Celebrity Theatre, says his dog, Jackie-O, has spent years helping him introduce acts on stage.
"She became a celebrity dog," he says of Jackie, who is now 17 and blind.
Jackie is a mix of Jack Russell terrier, Black Scottish Terrier and English bulldog. Hazelwood's wife found her in a newspaper advertisement when she was a puppy.
"And since then, she's gone everywhere and done everything with us. And now that she's going downhill, it was time," he said.
Hazelwood believes everything from Jackie's pointy ears to her coat, to her pleasant personality, is irreplaceable. He started searching for companies that clone pets.
A South Korean company was charging $100,000, but then, he found Viagen Pets, which is based in Texas.
"They knew how to do it, from all of the barnyard animals they've done over the years," Hazelwood said.
While genetics and cloning have been used for many years in agriculture and farming, pet cloning is relatively new. Scientists at Viagen recently cloned their 100th pet, and only offer cloning for cats and dogs. Cloning a cat costs $25,000, while cloning a dog costs $50,000.
"Fifty thousand dollars is crazy," Hazelwood admits, "But after 17 years with her, it's nothing."
In Hazelwood's case, a beagle in Rochester, NY, gave birth to two clones. He had the option to choose just one but took both.
"How could I choose? They're both Jackies," he said.
While he was a bit surprised that the clones' markings and ears don't exactly mimic Jackie's, he's very satisfied with the results. The puppies, now 1 year old, have different personalities, as well.
"One's calm and more lovable, and the other is an athlete running around at 90 miles an hour," Hazelwood said.
"We love getting feedback. We don't know how much personality is influenced by genetics or the environment, or a combination of both," Melain Rodriguez, a Viagen representative, said.
"As for the looks, you can have a shift in where the markings are. Usually, it's not dramatic, but sometimes they can be quite different looking," she said of the clones.
Tissue samples can be collected from a living dog, or from a dog that recently died. Viagen recommends having a vet collect samples while the dog is still alive.
The genetic material can remain on ice at the Viagen facility for decades.
The cost to store the DNA samples is $1,600.
Once a pet owner decides to move forward with the cloning process, scientists create embryos and implant several into a surrogate dog.
"I did have some concerns going into it because Dolly died prematurely," Hazelwood said of the sheep that became the first mammal cloned in 1996.
The staff at Viagen calmed his concerns.
"There's nothing about a cloned animal that makes them more susceptible to disease. Cloned animals are perfectly healthy. They live a normal lifespan," Rodriguez said.
Pet cloning is not a widespread process, but even in its early stages, it's attracting criticism from animal rights groups and shelters.
"There are already so many homeless animals in the world. That money could be better spent in a donation to a shelter, and helping to adopt out a homeless animal so they can experience love, rather than clone an animal," Jose Santiago, of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, said.
It's a sentiment Hazelwood says he understands.
"That makes a lot of sense. But it didn't to me. I had the money. I love the dog, and now I have two," he said.
While Jackie-O's days of appearing on stage with her owner are over, Hazelwood is now preparing to train one of her clones to start appearing with him sometime later this year.
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