Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Would you clone your beloved departed pet?

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Couple spends $155,000 to clone dead dog

Their beloved Lab had died of cancer; ‘we have gotten negative feedback’

By Michael Inbar
from the TODAYShow.com

The miracle of life made an encore for Edgar and Nina Otto. A year after their beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Lancelot, died of cancer, the Florida couple welcomed a cloned copy into their home Tuesday. They’ve dubbed their doggie double “Lancelot Encore.”

Speaking live with Al Roker via satellite on TODAY Wednesday, Edgar Otto said that it only took the 10-week-old puppy a few hours to assume his forebear’s place of preeminence in the family’s large menagerie, which includes nine other dogs.

“This morning, when the pack runs from the bedroom into the kitchen, he led the pack, which the old Lancelot did,” Edgar told Roker. “This is a puppy, 10 weeks old, and he led the pack!”

Nina added, “We noticed that he bonded immediately, within an hour, with every other pet in the house.”

Springing into auction

To be sure, the Ottos love their animals. On their 12-acre spread in West Boca, Fla., the couple tend to four birds, 10 cats and six sheep along with their kennel’s worth of pooches.

But Lancelot always occupied a special place in their hearts: Edgar called Lancelot “an unbelievable, humanlike dog, a true companion.” Thus the Ottos had the foresight to have DNA frozen from Lancelot six years ago.

Then, last June — six months after Lance’s death — they learned the Northern California biotech firm BioArts International was holding a dog-cloning auction. They threw their hat in the ring, and won.

The cloning didn’t come cheap — the Ottos shelled out $155,000 for the opportunity. But it worked. BioArts partnered with Dr. Hwang S Woo-Suk, of the South Korea biotech research firm Sooam, to bring a second Lancelot into the Otto household.

An egg containing the late Lancelot’s DNA was placed in a Korean dog to create Lancelot Encore. Once the pup was able to leave his birth mother and go out on his own, he was flown from South Korea to San Francisco before finally making his way to Miami International Airport, where the Ottos were pacing with anticipation.

Spitting image

“He came out of the chute and he actually ran to us, so it was amazing,” Nina Otto told Roker. “He looked just like my original Lancelot, so I was thrilled. I had been getting updates and pictures over the past 10 weeks, but the real thing is what I wanted to see.”

While Lancelot Encore acted positively puppylike on TODAY, squirming and licking the faces of his new owners as they talked, Roker asked the Ottos whether it seemed “a little kooky” to spend six figures to create a new dog in their old dog’s image.

Edgar explained that the family is hardly hurting: His father, Edward, cofounded NASCAR, “so I won that lottery.” On top of that, Edgar himself started a successful medical company.But even with their family’s good financial fortune, Nina Otto sold some of her jewelry to pay the big ticket to create Lancelot Encore.

“I can always have jewelry,” she told Roker. She added the couple entered the dog cloning lottery last summer, when “the country was not in the shape it is right now.” But when Roker asked if they would do it today, they admitted, “we would still do it.”

Still, the couple have their critics. Dr. Sara Pizano, of Miami-Dade County’s animal services department, told the Miami Herald that for the price the Ottos paid for having Lancelot cloned, “we could do spays and neuters for six months.”

Edgar Otto told the paper he donates considerable sums to his local Humane Society — and promised that if the Ottos bring an 11th dog into their home, it will come from a shelter.
He admitted, “We have gotten some negative feedback from people on the price.” Yet, as Lancelot Encore squirmed in his arms, he added, "But we feel it is worth it.”

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