Many pet owners have turned to social media to post pictures of their pets, but some people are now finding a way to keep their companions with them even longer by cloning the animals.
Courtney Udvar-Hazy has a wolf dog named Phoenix that looks just like her late dog, Willow, who died after being hit by a car four years ago.
After Willow died, her veterinarian harvested a skin sample for a process resembling IVF, which involves growing a cloned embryo in the uterus of a surrogate dog. Nine months later, six clones of Willow were born.
“Willow was just insanely special. She was my soul dog. I wanted her bloodline and her legacy to continue,” Udvar-Hazy told TODAY.
Phoenix and Willow are not the same animal but more like identical twins sharing similar genetics.
“I went into it with zero expectation,” Udvar-Hazy said. “I knew that it would be similar to identical twins in humans. Completely different animal, completely different soul, completely different personality, but genetically identical.”
ViaGen Pets & Equine is a Texas-based company that clones cats, dogs and horses. It has cloned more than a thousand animals since 2015 and expects more influencers to get in on the trend.
“There are a handful of our clients that have a social media presence,” ViaGen client service manager Melain Rodriguez told TODAY. “That’s definitely going to grow.”
The price tag for cloning animals is steep. It costs about $35,000 for cats, $50,000 for dogs and $85,000 for horses. It can cost a few hundred dollars a year just to store cells, too.
For some people, though, it’s worth the price. Kelly Anderson cloned her cat, Chai, featured on her social media account, after the animal died unexpectedly at a young age. The whole process took about four years.
“Someone might go out and find a lot of value in buying a car. I found a lot of value in carrying on a piece of my cat,” Kelly Anderson told TODAY.
Pet cloning is not without its critics. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has cited “important welfare concerns” and many pet rescue supporters are against it.
ViaGen, however, stands by its practice.
“These are very special pets that the client loves above everything else, and it’s a member of the family for them,” Rodriguez said.
But Udvar-Hazy also understands the concerns that critics may have.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s disrespectful to the dog’s life that you did that. You’re playing God’ and all of these things. And I understand that perspective, as well,” she said.
“I don’t believe that cloning should become a trend. I hope it doesn’t, pray it doesn’t, because I don’t think it’s something that should be overused or overdone.”