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Cloning A Beloved Pet May Be A Tempting Idea, But There Are Pitfalls

Barbra Streisand, on stage with her dog, Samantha, who was cloned to create Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett.
Barbra Streisand, on stage with her dog, Samantha, who was cloned to create Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett.

Barbra Streisand talked about women in Hollywood and national politics in an interview this week for Variety. But the remark that seems to have drawn the most attention is the star's revelation that two of her dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, have been cloned from her late dog, Samantha, a conspicuously adorable fluffy white 14-year-old dog who died last year.

Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet are so similar in appearance to each other, and to the late Samantha, that Ms. Streisand has had to dress them in violet and scarlet coats to tell them apart. But so far, they seem to display different personalities than their genetic predecessor.

"I'm waiting for them to get older," Barbra Streisand told Variety, "so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness."

I have no right to mock people who may seem a little daft about their dogs or cats. I'm one of those people myself. I sing to our dog — which must be excruciating, given dogs' sensitive hearing — and I understand why, when you love a pet that you know is nearing the end, you may long for them to be born all over again, to enjoy another lifetime. Cloning might let you think that the dog you love can somehow be reborn.

But they can't. They may have what looks like the same fur, size, nose or eyes, but that's not what gives dogs the personalities we come to cherish. Time, play and experience do that. Living beings are more than replicas.

There is also, if I may drag this phrase into a dog story, a moral point to contemplate. Cloning a dog can cost more than $50,000 and works only about a third of the time. If you go to the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control website, you can find photos of more than a thousand dogs in their shelters, from Akitas to Maltese to whippets and all kinds of mixed breeds, ready to be adopted right now for just a $125 fee. And all of them would look happy to play frisbee on the lawns of Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate or at any other loving home.

The shorter lives of pets can seem cruel luck to us when they die after just a few years. But their highly compressed lives also make us hold them closer. They remind us of the fleeting gift of life, but the endurance of love. Pet cloning may trick us into thinking that they're not perishable and robs us of what pets teach us, time and again in our lives: We love, we lose, we learn, and we love again.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.