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Lisa Unleashed: When Celebrities And Canines Collide: Send in the Clones

Published: March 11, 2018

One could hardly miss all the news surrounding Barbra Streisand’s recent admission in Variety magazine that two of her pet Coton de Tulears, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet, were cloned from her dearly departed Samantha, a 14-year-old Coton who passed away last year. In the magazine article it states beside her husband James Brolin, “there’s no one she enjoys sharing her residence with more than her three Coton de Tulear dogs.” She also owns another one, Miss Fanny, a distant cousin of Samantha’s from a breeder.

Celebrities and dogs in the news. Nothing sparks PR spin quicker, except maybe a celebrity birth. According to NPR, “During the photo shoot [for the Variety article] Streisand joked that a portrait with her three Coton de Tulear dogs should be captioned ‘Send in the Clones.’” Ha! When I read this I literally laughed out loud. I thought, wow, she’s got a good sense of humor. Not everyone thought is was funny.

PETA Chimes In

As much as I loathe to give PETA any publicity, this ridiculous statement needs a good fact-check. In a statement to Page Six about the actress’s decision to clone her dog, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in part, “We all want our beloved dogs to live forever, but while it may sound like a good idea, cloning doesn’t achieve that — instead, it creates a new and different dog who has only the physical characteristics of the original. Animals’ personalities, quirks, and very ‘essence’ simply cannot be replicated, and when you consider that millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned, you realize that cloning adds to the homeless-animal population crisis.”

Let’s get started. This line, “instead, it creates a new and different dog who has only the physical characteristics of the original. Animals’ personalities, quirks, and very ‘essence’ simply cannot be replicated…” This is not really correct; any dog, cloned or purpose-bred, will have physical characteristics of the parent, whether it’s 50 percent genetic material or 100 percent as in a cloned dog. As a breeder myself for 30 years, and others just like me, when you have a family of dogs for generations, you can identify unique personalities traits passed down through multiple generations.

Next up: “…millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned, you realize that cloning adds to the homeless-animal population crisis.” Hang on. Today’s adoption market is so hot that dogs are being shipped all over the country — no, make that from all over the world — to fill shelters that no longer have enough dogs to meet the demand. A small percentage, like older or sick dogs or those with a biting history, may not find new homes, but the well-oiled machine of retail rescue doesn’t let the majority of dogs in shelters languish at all. And then the, “dying in terrifying ways when abandoned…” What is she talking about? Is there a list of all the horrible ways dogs that are either picked up as strays by municipal animal control officers or surrendered by their owners at private shelters dying horribly? The only way I know that a dog must meet his maker while at a shelter is by humane euthanasia by a licensed veterinarian, usually codified in state statues. Newkirk makes it sound like some of these dogs are tortured to death by those who are charged with their care.

The final fake news, “You realize that cloning adds to the homeless-animal population crisis.” Really? I would bet money that anyone who has spent $50,000 to have their dog cloned is not going to drop it off at the shelter because it no longer fits their lifestyle, has exhibited behavioral issues or developed a genetic disease.

Why cloning?

I have a theory about the rise of cloning dogs. Back in the old days of the mid-20th Century, the number of owners who had owned spayed or neutered dogs was relatively low. Remember how many of us got family pets from someone down the street who had an “oops” litter? One of my childhood pets, Tippy Toes, was an oops litter at my barn between a purebred Schipperke and a beagle mix. People just didn’t spay and neuter back then, and there were lots of unwanted litters and shelters were more crowded than today before widespread education about spay and neuter took hold, along with the no-kill movement, which made a big dent in getting adoptable dogs into new homes.

So how does this affect Barbra Streisand’s decision to clone? My guess is that as a responsible pet owner, she had Samantha spayed. End of reproduction for that dog, if it were the 20th Century. But today with technology and tons of money, people who can afford cloning, and can get part of their dog back. If Samantha had been owned in the 1950s say, she most likely wouldn’t have been spayed. If her owner wanted a dog just like her, she might bring her back to the breeder. If there was an acceptable male that might produce a litter, Barbra could have back a part of her beloved pet. I know, that’s a lot of ifs. But the funny thing is, she did do that when she acquired Miss Fanny from a breeder. My theory is that in the 21st Century the only way to get your spayed or neutered dog in a next generation is through cloning. There are few people beyond dedicated breeders who live with intact animals any more. Let’s face it, intact dogs can be hard to manage, especially the females when they go into season twice a year. And males in the same household go completely out of their minds during this time.

So what’s the answer? Cloning dogs is a fringe option for the wealthy to keep a dog they loved nearby. For the rest of us, we can get a purebred from a breeder and become repeat customers over the years, to keep it in the family, or we can learn to become breeders and create our own family of dogs. I highly recommend the latter, as my pets have given me more joy (and some heartache) raising them from birth and helping them in death. Besides, I could never afford cloning.

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses and hounds at lisaunleashed.com. You can reach her at lisa.peterson@barngirlmedia.com.

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