BEL AIR, Md. – A Bel Air woman loves her long-haired chihuahua so much that she paid a Texas animal cloning company $50,000 so that her dog — or a version of him — will be at her side forever.
Five puppies genetically identical to the dog, Bruce Wayne, were born in October and thrived. Four went to live with Bruce and his owner, Meesha Kauffman, while the fifth lives with a friend.
“I was expecting one puppy or maybe two,” Kauffman said. “When I heard that five puppies were born, I thought, ‘Wow, I hit the jackpot.’ ”
ViaGen is the only animal cloning company in the U.S. to clone pets in addition to livestock, said Melain Rodriguez, the client service manager.
Cloning involves a process called “nuclear transfer,” and Rodriguez explained it like this: A veterinarian removed a 4-millimeter piece of Bruce Wayne’s skin, and it was shipped to Texas. Scientists at ViaGen took the sample and grew millions of live cells. An egg was then withdrawn from the surrogate “mom” — in this case a beagle — and the nucleus was removed. The remainder of the beagle’s egg was fused with the cultured cells, embryos started to grow and they were implanted into the beagle. After a normal gestation period, the beagle gave birth to the litter.
Since expanding into pet cloning more than two years ago, ViaGen has cloned more than 100 pets, Rodriguez said, and more than half are dogs. Despite the expense ($50,000 for a dog and $25,000 for a cat) Rodriguez said the practice has become increasingly popular since singer Barbra Streisand revealed in February that she’d had her 14-year-old dog, a Coton du Tulear named Samantha, cloned. Rodriguez said there’s a lengthy waiting list to have Fido or Fluffy cloned.
“The demand is very high,” she said, “and it’s growing.”