Thursday, January 12, 2012

Beyond The Genes

Living in Staten Island, a relatively small place where your business is everybody's business, I am always alerted to any mention of our borough on TV, radio, or otherwise through our local newspaper, which pretty much reports every single time a Staten Islander is involved in something in the media.  This week, I learned in that exact manner of a woman from my island that was going to be featured on a TLC show about cloning her deceased pet dog.  With nothing much to do on a Wednesday night, Louie and I watched the show, "I Cloned My Pet," to see what all the hype was about.

Long story short, three individuals, two of which were not in the right situations (monetarily or otherwise - one was in jail!), spent $50,000 to send samples of their deceased dogs' DNA off to a Korean laboratory so that a surrogate mother dog could birth a genetic clone of their late pet.

Besides the fact that I'm upset that the media has taken the oh-so-easy opportunity to showcase yet another dim-witted individual from Staten Island, a stereotype they love to perpetuate, I am angry that the network, by airing the show, is also putting forth the idea, either intentionally or unintentionally, that because these new clones share the previous dogs' genes, that they are, in fact, the same animal.

Riddle me this: if I sent DNA samples of my Taco, whom I cared for in his old age, off to a research lab in Korea, and thus received a horse of the exact same genetic makeup, would it, indeed, bring Taco back to me?

The answer is no.  No, no, no.  Genes mean only so much and I wouldn't do such a thing even if I was paid to do it.  Taco was who he was because of the time and circumstances under which I met him.  A foal that shares his genes may be identical to him in genotype, but life experiences on the part of both the animal and the human make an animal who it is just as much.  A weanling Taco and a 35-year old Taco are not the same animal, not even in the slightest.

The same goes for Marge.  People have argued that it would be interesting to see, through cloning, what Marge would be like had I raised her from puppyhood.  But would it really be Marge, then?  Aren't Marge and my relationship with Marge defined by the things that we worked through when I first brought her home?

I'm not into the whole debate about whether cloning is moral or immoral, but I do think that cloning for this kind of reason (to bring back a dear departed animal) is really an insult to the special and fragile relationship that we share with our animals.  To suggest that $50,000 and a strand of DNA can bring back many years of memories is something that I find really offensive and ill-argued.  There is something really perverse about it; if these people really loved their original dogs, they'd use the money to support local shelters or responsible breeders and breed rescues.

In addition to my main complaint about the show, I also find that the show might even encourage irresponsible ways to go about acquiring and raising a dog, since it clearly shows one of the subjects picking out a puppy from a pet store, and also seems to conveniently leave out the importance of training and socialization in molding a good pet - things that won't cross over with the implanted DNA.

It also seems to skim right over the fact that multiple surrogate mothers are used in the cloning process, since clones often die, and does not take issue with the fact that dogs are needlessly made to carry litters for no reason other than some Americans' misdirected grief over departed pets.

I've written an e-mail to TLC voicing my displeasure that such a show was aired.  I get that shows like this are aired all for the shock value.. I do.  But, I think there are lots of productive ways for the network to include pet-friendly topics that draw in big ratings in their program repertoire.  This is not one of them.


KB January 12, 2012 at 9:50 AM  

Our relationships with our pets help define them, and this cloning thing completely ignores that huge fact. I agree with you whole-heartedly.

Amy January 12, 2012 at 10:54 AM  

Interesting post, thanks for sharing. I've heard a lot about this show but never watched it... Other's I know have noted that they have the same feelings about the show that you do. It's great that you wrote them and made a stand.

Amy / Layla the Malamute January 12, 2012 at 2:47 PM  

I saw a few minutes of the show and then Pat asked to change the channel because the stupidity was annoying him lol.

The woman from Staten Island was the worst. I sympathize with your media stereotype situation since I live on the Jersey shore - you can't imagine how other places glorify them! People that us locals loathe are considered cool. Ugh.

Anyway, I agree with you completely. That's one of the reasons I ultimately decided against breeding Layla - I have to believe that nurture has had as much as (or possibly greater) impact on her than nature and genes have.

Can you believe TLC dropped $150,000 for those people combined? And what if the puppy dies in birth or before birth. Are they out their money?

Like I said on Facebook, some people shouldn't be allowed to have pets!

Anonymous January 12, 2012 at 3:33 PM  

Couldn't agree more. It's a very normal thing to want to bring back those we love. But death is a part of life and it's a very uncomfortable thing to me to try to circumvent that.

Listen to this story about a VERY tame bull named Chance that was cloned. It just proves your point:


marisa January 12, 2012 at 9:57 PM  

Sam - how totally insiteful....

Tucker The Crestie January 13, 2012 at 6:52 PM  

Couldn't agree more ... with everything you said. And thanks for stopping by today - for some reason your new posts aren't popping up in my blog roll anymore, so I'm going to have to figure out why that is. Good to see you!

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