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When a Dog’s Gotta Go

The Caninologist

What a nasty little tweetfest of puns and putdowns poor Barbra Streisand had to endure just because she cloned her dog.

Streisand decided she couldn’t live without her beloved Samantha, a curly-haired Coton de Tulear, which I understand is French for “spoiled cur of Tinseltown.”

Streisand knew a bit about cloning through a friend, who had convinced her, by introducing her to an actual canine clone, that a doggie DNA sequel looks pretty much like the original movie. A cloned dog looks and acts like a regular dog, or as close to a regular dog as a Hollywood glamor puss dog can look.

For Hollywood legends of screen and song, $50,000 is chump change, and that’s all it takes to buy a second-time around for that diamond-bedecked family pooch nearing the final exit.

And so, when Sammie started listing toward the end, Streisand, already immortal from her early stage work alone, and still looking fabulous, decided to bring a bit of Sammie along on the ride to Forever Land.

She managed to send doggie DNA samples to Viagen Pets of Cedar Park, Texas. Scrapings of tummy and saliva arrived just in time, a miracle of technology and logistics perhaps even more impressive than the genetic engineering to follow.

Babs wound up with a pair of little sort-of Sammies, known across the universe now as the adorably named Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet. The subject of their gene-snipped origins came up during an interview Streisand gave to Variety. Cue the snark.

Streisand was defended, and rightly so, for trying out a bona fide medical technology, which might eventually lead to a cure for cancer, not to mention a giant boost in the GDP of Cedar Park, Texas. The Pet Fund, a nonprofit organization, described some of the serious benefits of animal cloning in a statement of support, which Streisand has posted online.

She explained her decision in a statement published by The New York Times.

“I was so devastated by the loss of my dear Samantha, after 14 years together, that I just wanted to keep her with me in some way,” Streisand wrote. “It was easier to let Sammie go if I knew I could keep some part of her alive, something that came from her DNA.”

The two little misses seem about equally white and curly as the original model. And, perhaps not surprising for genetic twins, they look like one another. According to some accounts, even Miss Barbra can’t tell them apart, revealing perhaps the single most annoying side effect bedeviling the pet-cloning industry.

Who are we to criticize Barbra Streisand? She can do what she wants with her music, her hairdo, her facial and skin care, her pet projects, her project pets. A lot of normal people overdo it when it comes to their love of companion animals. People talk to horses and hear phonemes in the bleating of goats. If you’re Barbra Streisand, of course you go for premium dog food, thousand-dollar fur fluffings, and genetic reincarnation.

Ella, my non-clonal dogwalker of a daughter, noted that a cloned dog isn’t necessarily gonna have the same personality as its DNA donor. “That won’t happen until they find a way to clone consciousness,” she said.

DNA is something like a software program that drives a living thing, but the code is infested with viruses. All kinds of code-shifting can happen between tail and snout. Like a spoken language, the code of heredity changes meaning in context. Some dogs can have a blue eye and a brown eye. Gene expression in a dog is a lot of genes, dog parks, and creatures interacting. A phenotype isn’t the same as a genotype. If you don’t know what that means, rest assured that you can’t clone the soul of a dog, as Barbra Streisand wrote for The Times, assuming a dog can have a soul, which you can assume, or not, based on zero evidence either way.

The funny thing is that Streisand, with her assistant, visited Samantha’s grave, and the assistant took a photo. Streisand was upset by the way it was cropped in the printed version of The New York Times.

The full photo shows the two little doggie clone devils — just kidding they’re so truly adorable — looking straight out of their deluxe double perambulator (naturally) at their DNA donor’s image, carved on the gravestone.

The scene makes Sammie look like the Doggie Queen of Tinseltown she must have been in real life. And the pups, as if by some kind of clonal magic, seem to sense their connection to a noble not-completely-dead progenitor. They both appear to be looking straight at their sort-of-mommy’s granitic visage in a way that seemed to say … something.

Maybe they wanted to say, “Thanks for the DNA, donor mommy doggie!” Or maybe they just wanted out of their gilded carriage long enough to pee on the grass.

Cloned or not, if a dog’s gotta go, a dog’s gotta go.

Carl T. Hall, executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, is a longtime science reporter and journalism instructor who is allergic to cats. He lives in the Bayview neighborhood where he and some business partners will soon be opening a dog-friendly cafe, Word.

Main article photo by: Claudio Ventrella