German shepherd puppies, cloned from hero 9/11 search and rescue dog, come to L.A.
Last June, we told you about one of the strangest essay contests we've heard of yet. BioArts International, the California-based company known for selling the cloned copies of the dogs of deep-pocketed owners, famously cloned a much-loved Labrador retriever named Lancelot for the low, low price of $155,000. (The cloned puppy was dubbed "Lancelot Encore," and his human family, Edgar and Nina Otto, could afford it -- Edgar is the son of one of the founders of NASCAR.) But not everyone can afford that price tag, and so BioArts announced its Golden Clone Giveaway, through which one winner would be chosen to have their dog cloned free of charge.
The contest winner, it turns out, is James Symington, a retired Canadian police officer who now lives in Los Angeles. Symington wrote movingly about his dog Trakr, a German shepherd who participated in search-and-rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. (Symington and Trakr eventually located the last survivor found after the attacks.)
"Once in a lifetime, a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches but also plays a pivotal role in history," began Symington's essay about Trakr, who died at age 16 in April. In the years before his death, the dog had lost the use of his rear legs due to a degenerative neurological disorder that some experts believe was related to exposure to toxic smoke at Ground Zero.
Trakr's story "blew us away," BioArts CEO Lou Hawthorne said of the contest's selection process. "His many remarkable capabilities were proven beyond all doubt in our nation's darkest hour -- and we view the work of cloning him as a great honor." A few days ago, Symington was presented with five cloned mini-Trakrs.
Our colleague Shelby Grad has the details on the L.A. Now blog:
BioArts said in a statement that it partnered with South Korean cloning specialist Hwang Woo-Suk to clone the German shepherd. Woo-Suk is a controversial cloning pioneer who has been accused of faking human cloning evidence.
In a statement released by BioArts, Symington said meeting the new dogs was an emotional experience: "They're identical -- down to the smallest detail. Few dogs are born with exceptional abilities -- Trakr was one of those dogs. And if these puppies have the same attributes as Trakr, I plan on putting them into search and rescue so they can help people the way Trakr did."
Although Symington is clearly overjoyed about his five Trakr copies, L.A. Now notes that many animal lovers don't share his enthusiasm. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a statement on the controversial practice of animal cloning: "Our current knowledge of animal cloning indicates that there are important welfare concerns at issue. Reports on the health and condition of mammalian animals produced by cloning have indicated a variety of anatomical and physiological problems."
BioArts doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, so the debate is sure to continue.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Top photo: Symington (left) holds five clones of Trakr as BioArts CEO Lou Hawthorne looks on. Credit: PRNewsFoto