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2005-08-17 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Pets, Pets, Pets...

Tai as a pup with Dr. Cheol-Yong Hwang.Tai as a pup with Dr. Cheol-Yong Hwang.

by Joanne Anderson

I knew a canine clone was on the horizon, but it was a shock to see the photos from Korea. The pup, Snuppy, and his donor, Tai, are the spitting image of my Afghan hound, right down to the black & tan. Both my Afghan and the clone’s donor Dad hail from Texas breeders. Our dog world may be small, but Snuppy’s reach is boundless. This pup’s arrival re-ignited heated debates ethically, scientifically and even among kennel club officials, while Snuppy’s after glow may someday save countless lives.

Dr. Woo Suk Hwang has done it again. His goal is to improve medical treatment for people and animals and to preserve endangered species, and he’s had remarkable successes. Last year he cloned human embryos and more recently isolated them for stem cell research. Dog cloning still eluded researchers because of the tricky canine reproductive system. With a monumental 3 year effort- 1,095 transfers into 123 surrogate mother dogs- his team at the Seoul National University produced the cloned pup. The researchers realized their method was inefficient and have no plans to reproduce pets.

Here’s the simplified recipe: Scoop a smidgen of DNA from a champion Afghan’s ear, spoon it in the emptied egg of a yellow Labrador retriever, put it back in the Lab’s "oven" for 60 days, stirring with a lot of creative problem solving, so the Lab bakes the replica Afghan ‘til done’. Remove via a "C" section.

Most thought we’d see a Husky mix cloned first. This dog belonged to a wealthy Texas couple who invested millions in the Missyplicity Project which in turn spawned the research firm- Genetics Savings & Clone (GSC). They cloned the first cat in 2001, and then showed off a pair of cloned Bengal kittens during the CFA/Iams Show at the Garden last fall. A GSC scientist assured me they spayed and adopted out the surrogates. With hopes to have a dog clone in 2005, GSC took advance orders from clients. Perpetuating pets for profit-$50,000 for a kitten, no price yet for a dog- disturbs many of us, including the Seoul doctors who surmounted the canine obstacles first.

Why pick an Afghan hound to replicate? Were all the implants Afghan? I’ve owned them for 25 years. This buzz flew around the Afghan hound community since the story broke. Granted, I’m biased; but after getting over the initial surprise, I see the genius in the breed choice.

First a great Afghan was available and he wasn’t harmed. There is a second Dr. Hwang- Dr. Cheol- Yong Hwang, a veterinarian colleague of the renowned geneticist. He imported the donor Afghan- "Tai"- from the US when he was a 4 month old pup to be his pet and show dog. He adores Tai and the breed. (See photo.) Both doctors agreed that Tai’s traceable pedigree, healthy stature and excellent temperament would make him a wonderful DNA candidate. He told me in an email that all the implants came from a 5 mm. tissue sample taken from Tai’s ear. They grew more of his DNA in a cell culture.

I spoke to Linda Nothfelder of Adorah Afghans-Tai’s breeder and co-owner in Texas. She’s rightfully proud of her dog’s role and keeps a close correspondence with Dr. Hwang. She said that Tai was a mother/son product which may have been another factor to make him more suitable. Her own uncle sacrificed his life to enrich research for an artificial heart valve, so she feels this attribute runs "in her blood". She gave Dr. Hwang her blessing when he said their champion would be the donor.

Linda’s upset that some Afghan people are saying the publicity will make our breed more popular- like the Dalmatians in the Disney films. I doubt it, and I watch breed fads at the shelter all the time. Afghans are too high maintenance for our fast food world. Just have impulsive customers spend some time with us at the grooming table- we’ll deter them. It’s been about 9 years since I’ve had to take a needy Afghan out of Babylon Shelter. I’d like to keep it that way.

History demands the clone choice be Afghan. They may well be the world’s oldest purebred dog. In May 2004 the canine genome project authenticated their place in the ancient group of canids, closest to wolves. Some trace them to the pyramids of Egypt; others to the steppes of Asia. A legend boasts Afghans as Noah’s choice, but none I know would’ve willingly boarded that Ark. The flood had the makings of a bad hair day.

CNN’s press release on 8/3 cites Dr. Stanley Coren’s dog IQ rating. Years ago he ranked Afghans the lowest out of 119 breeds. He confused intelligence with obedience.

Thousand of years ago Afghans were bred for speed to take down gazelle and leopards. The sight hounds were so far ahead of the hunters that they became independent thinkers. In a flash they know what you want. It’s your job to figure out how to get them to do it. My Afghan and I play this mind game each week at agility class. Who’s the dummy?

Coren says he’s afraid of cloned fashion statements. Afghans, in their magnificent flowing coats, are canine art in motion. Many dub them the "King of dogs". It’s only fitting that the king be the genetic prototype in this new cloning venture. …..An interesting footnote: Dr. Hwang already sees the physical similarities between the 15 week pup and the 3 year adult. However, their temperaments differ. While Tai is a gentle, reserved and a finicky eater; Snuppy is more spoiled, curious and demands every food in sight. After all, he is the Crown Prince, with a court of vets catering to his every whim.

Babylon Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon.

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