Who doesn’t want their loved ones to come back to life?
When cat Chai, pet owner and Austin resident Kelly Anderson, died four years ago after eating plastic wrap in the care of a pet sitter, she was devastated . But she recalled a conversation she had had with her roommate, who was a vet tech, a few weeks earlier: Rumor had it that grieving pet owners found solace in a Cedar Park company called ViaGen. which could store animal DNA and create animal clones. .
In grief over the untimely death of his pet, Anderson was immediately interested.
“If I hadn’t had this conversation, I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” Anderson told Austinia. “I wouldn’t have even thought of cloning, but…it was fresh in my mind. So I called them first thing in the morning, and the rest is history.”
Anderson pictured with her cloned cat, Chai. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Four years later, Anderson brought home the result of that fateful call: Belle, a now five-month-old rag doll with snow-white fur and icy blue eyes who looks just like her predecessor Chai.
Beautiful (pictured left) compared to its predecessor Chai. (Claire Partain/Austonia) (Kelly Anderson)
Like many others, ViaGen office manager and accounting and marketing coordinator Lauren Aston was surprised to learn that cloning existed outside the realm of science fiction in 2008. “I didn’t know not really what I thought about it, just because I didn’t know enough about cloning,” Aston said.
In reality, cloning with ViaGen is much less like Frankenstein than in vitro fertilization: cells are taken from the first pet through a simple skin biopsy (which Aston says is similar to extracting a mole), placed in a hollow egg and born through a surrogate cat or dog. Although it sometimes takes time, what follows is a normal and healthy delivery. After eight weeks, the twin cat or dog is happily home with its even happier owners.
ViaGen’s practice, which is the only one of its kind in North America, has been used for more than 20 years to help endangered animals, like the black-footed ferret, while being picked up by influencers and even celebrities like Barbra Streisand. Many, like Anderson, clone pets with whom they have shared an unusual bond, especially if their pet has died unexpectedly.
But some choose to clone a cat or dog that is still alive. Whether it’s replicating their drug-sniffing talent or creating a pack of identical dogs, like the Chihuahua Instagram pack @ipartywithbrucewayne.
Through every single cloning decision, however, one thing seems to ring true: These pet owners chose to create a pet in the image of their former furball because of a deep connection to their deceased pet (or living).
“Everyone has a totally different view, but almost everyone says there was just something special about this animal,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what I believe in, but I think everyone has, whether human or animal, something going for them.”
But creating an identical kitty has its downsides, especially public misconceptions. Like twins, cloned animals don’t take on identical personalities: With a deeper meow and a more spoiled upbringing than Chai, Anderson said her twin cats seem to prove the nature versus nurture debate.
“I think their main personality trait is really bold and sassy, so they definitely share that,” Anderson said. “But other than that…I strongly believe that the environment shapes everything.”
Aside from Belle’s nearly 65,000 Instagram followings, the socialite kitty has racked up nearly 300,000 likes on TikTok in just a few months. Many comments are far from positive.
“What gets to me the most is when people say I’m replacing Chai or I need to go to therapy, which I think is really fucked up because I’m a big mental health advocate,” he said. said Anderson.
When not sparking controversy online, Anderson said she would like to create a community for misunderstood cloned animal owners like her who say they are not replacing their pet, but simply honoring a life too short.
It will take some time for people to see cloned pets as just “later-born twins,” Aston said, especially with cloning costs of $50,000 (or $35,000 for cats). While she thinks pet cloning will remain a niche service, she said ViaGen hopes to contribute to more animal conservation projects and fewer misconceptions about science in the future.
“There are so many myths based on weird Hollywood movies…(but) it’s as normal as any conventionally bred animal,” Aston said. “We don’t edit anything, we don’t modify anything… I think he just needs more education.”
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