It's one of my favorite activities: watching CBS' "Sunday Morning" with my husband on the sofa, with dogs Theo and Jada in a breakfast-saturated snooze between us. The latest show featured Antonio Banderas talking about his role as Picasso in an upcoming movie; a story about a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands and a spotlight on Tina Fey's new Broadway show, "Mean Girls." The program wrapped with a segment by Luke Burbank talking about dog cloning.
A few notable celebrities have cloned their dogs, including Diane von Furstenberg, who cloned her Jack Russell terrier, and Barbra Streisand, who cloned her coton de tulear. As Streisand explained in a New York Times interview in March, she was so devastated by the death of her 14-year-old dog Samantha, she felt that having a clone — literally, a piece of Samantha that would live on after the dog's death — was the only thing that would ease the grief.
Burbank admitted that while he loves his dog, Ruby, he would not be cloning her, and not only because of the price tag (about $50k). He also has no desire to replicate her shedding gene. Most importantly, he said, he would not be cloning Ruby because he believes that death, and the grieving we do in its wake, is not meant to be circumvented. It is because we, and those we love, die — because life is finite — that life is precious.
In an interview with Scientific American, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Woestendiek (author of "Dog, Inc.") addressed some of the questions dog cloning raises.
"One is the sort of philosophical question of whether we really need new ways to make dogs when so many are already being put down in shelters," he said. Streisand's cloning endeavor resulted in four puppies. She kept three, gave one away, and also gave away the two dogs she already had, in order to make room. Granted they all got good homes; but not all cloned puppies are so lucky. Woestendiek said that cloning (which until 2015 took place primarily in South Korea) requires multiple breeding females and results in multiple births. He witnessed a number of "surplus" cloned dogs living in cages in South Korea.
I adore Theo and Jada, but I will not be cloning them. I also adore my husband and my mother, but I will not be cloning them, either. I agree with Burbank that there is something to be said for dealing with death and grief when they come your way, that it is a dimension of life that adds dimension to life. I also agree with John Woestendiek, that with so many perfectly healthy, loving dogs being put to death in shelters, creating new ones is a questionable practice.
I have had nine dogs in my adult lifetime, including Theo and Jada. Each has had its own personality, behavior quirks and soulfulness, a combination of genetics, the life they lived before they got to me and the treatment and training they received from me. I loved and continue to love them all. But when they died, it seemed to me the greatest act of devotion was to cherish their memory — and then, because space had opened up in my home and heart, adopt again.
Barbra Streisand admitted that cloning does not replicate the dog in its entirety. "You can clone the look of a dog, but you can't clone the soul," she said in her article. Which reminded me that many years ago, a customer commissioned me to paint his wife's beloved beagle. When I told him to send me a photograph to work from, he declined. "Just get one off the internet," he said. "All beagles look alike."
It was a startling comment, but maybe the husband was on to something. Maybe he didn't bother with a photograph of the actual beloved dog because he knew there is nothing — no photograph, no portrait (and, as we've learned, not even a cloning) — that can truly capture a soul. Only our heart can do that.
Dana Shavin is the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist," available at Barnes & Noble and Star Line Books. Her website is Danashavin.com and she is on Facebook at Danashavinwrites.