Speaking Collars and Wonder Clones

One of my favorite recent movies was Disney’s “Up.” One of the characters in the movie is a dog. It speaks through a collar that translates its thoughts. I grew up around pets. My parents always had at least one dog and some other kind of animal. We spent a good amount of time traveling in Maine during April one year. It got cold enough that the goldfish tank had a layer of ice on the top. The four goldfish inside were fine and actually lived rather long in comparison with some others I’d had over the years. I have a suspicion I know what was on their minds without the benefit of that translator.

With that much exposure to pets, you get accustomed to their mannerisms. You learn to speak their language. It isn’t always about barking, chirping, or meowing. A simple nudge can tell you they want your attention. My parents’ Rhodesian ridgeback, Biddy, a dog the size of a small horse, would knock her nose into the Christmas bell hung on the inside of the front door to signal her desire to venture outside. She loved to sun herself. A stroll over to where their food ought to appear in the next five minutes lets you know they are hungry. I am wondering if Pavlov was equally trained by the dog. In fact, when I think about pets in science that is my first thought which is closely followed by cloning.

Biddy passed away Tuesday from seizure complications. The timing of this article is uncanny, and I find it is hard to write it in all honestly. Both of my moms struggled with a call many owners/guardians face when it comes to pets in poor health. As Biddy’s seizure events came with more frequency all of the options offered by her vet were explored. Homeopathic treatments were also employed. In the end, the seizers were a bigger enemy than we could stare down.

Some of the medications even robbed Biddy of her body language that often told us what she wanted or needed and blunted her personality. I don’t live with my parents. I do see them almost every day. I think the changes were more obvious just because of those little breaks. She was never much of a barker. She couldn’t communicate how she was feeling and would often whine and pace. While her emotions and needs became less obvious, we were much more aware of the impending seizures. While I never witnessed one of her seizures, both my parents and my son had. I’d even caught some of the signs while visiting and my mom and I matched them up to the seizure event that happened that evening. Soon we could tell how the onset expressed itself in her system. I wondered if this was how assistance animals knew seizures were about to occur in the humans they aided. I found myself often wishing for that collar in “Up.”

Dealing with the loss of a pet is difficult. For many of us, they are members of our family. Biddy was part of mine. We weren’t prepared to let go, so I do understand the desire to keep them with you as long as you can. If you can’t have them, could a clone be the next best thing? In science fiction, I’ve often seen cloning depicted with grown specimens emerging and some data storage mechanism implanted in their brain. Both of those circumvent the influence of environment and experience. The clone is not subjected to new experiences and environments during development. It comes with its original’s bank of memories and experiences already downloaded.

The reality of clones so far is that they have to be born just like the original. This allows for those clones to have their own experiences in unique environments. This likely makes them different than the original. I wonder in the case of the first household pet clone, Mira, born in 2007, if the fact that she has been raised by the same people that raised Missy, the dog whose DNA she is derived from, is a factor in that she is physically and behaviorally similar.

The company that was formed by the scientists that cloned Missy and produced Mira is no longer in operations. While Mira was a success story, there were complications with the business as well as physical anomalies in some of the clones. After closing, the company is on record in many sources speaking to the experimental nature of cloning as well as denouncing the current cloning black market.

I only mentioned two pet science topics and a couple of fictional references. Fill me in. Toss some ideas out here. Always, correct me if I am wrong. And please, just this time, allow me to dedicate this to my good friend, Biddy.

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