pet owners simply refuse to say goodbye at all. Last month saw the reversal of a New York State ruling that had prohibited owners from sharing pet-cemetery space with their dogs or cats. Now, the desire of some owners to keep their pets around forever – in stuffed and/or cloned form – has hit the airwaves.Nobody wants to say goodbye to a beloved pet, of course…but lately, it's starting to seem like a lot of
"American Stuffers," which premiered last week on Animal Planet, follows Daniel Ross, the owner/proprietor of Xtreme Taxidermy in Romance, AR (…no, really), and his family and co-workers. Much of Ross's business comes from preserving hunting trophies, but a significant portion proceeds from bereft pet owners who want to keep their dogs with them forever. (You'd think that one guy would have given his female hound a nicer name than "Turd" if he felt that strongly about her.) The preservation process isn't terribly pleasant, obviously (organ removal, glass eyes, etc.), but as Claire Zulkey's review for The Onion's A.V. Club noted, it pales in comparison to the out-of-whack perspective: "It's not the gore that was off-putting, it's the lady who admits to putting her now-freeze-dried Yorkshire terrier above her son – in front of her son."
We can't help thinking that a nice framed photograph of the departed pooch would do the same job with a decidedly lower haunted-house factor. And the procedure is pricey – at PerpetualPet.net, for example, preserving a small feline via freeze-drying will probably cost at least $775, depending on Tigger's weight and any "special poses" you ask for. This is probably less expensive than traditional taxidermy, but the process still takes quite a bit of time – 15-18 weeks for a cat or small dog, and up to 6 months for larger dog breeds.
But for some owners, even a taxidermied version of the dog won't do. They want the same dog – exactly the same dog, right down to the DNA. One of those owners is Danielle Tarantola, whose journey to copy her beloved late dog, Trouble, is the subject of TLC's upcoming special, "I Cloned My Pet" (Wednesday January 11 at 9 PM ET). Tarantola, who hit Anderson Cooper's talk show on Monday, paid fifty grand to have Trouble reconstituted – and she got a bargain! (The South Korean company that performs the cloning, the only company in the world that will clone dogs, normally charges $100,000 for the service.)
It's an interesting science-news story, and a debate we've had as a society since Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996. In addition to concerns about a "slippery slope" from cloning beloved pets to cloning people, experts like John Woestendiek, author of a book about the dog-cloning industry called "Dog, Inc.," note that ethical concerns arise from the treatment of the dogs at cloning labs; South Korea's legal standard for ethical treatment of animals is evidently lower than the U.S.'s.
But what about the ethical treatment of Ms. Tarantola, whose attachment to the first version of Trouble strikes us as unhealthy? She loved her dog so much even during his lifetime that she painted his likeness on her wall; printed his face on her pillows and bedspread; and put him in a tuxedo for her wedding. Again, we empathize with the grief that comes with the death of a pet, and mourning companion animals as the family members those animals become is normal. Getting mired in the "denial" stage of the five stages of grief is, if you'll forgive the pun, troubling, and it's not as though every other dog on earth stopped reproducing. Shouldn't someone in Tarantola's life have stepped in and mentioned alternatives like shelter dogs and grief therapy, before Tarantola watched the birth of the cloned Trouble ("Double Trouble," now ensconced at her Staten Island, NY home) live via Skype at a cost of fifty grand? Did anyone think to point out that it's merely a genetic copy of Trouble Sr., not guaranteed to share Trouble's personality? And what does her husband think of all this? Guess we'll have to watch the special and find out.
Would you stuff, or clone, your pet? Or does that sound crazy? Tell us in the comments!