A couple who is convinced they have the perfect dog with the perfect bark and the perfect howl are giving $2.3 million to Texas A&M University to clone their beloved Missy.
The mystery couple sent out requests for proposals from research institutions a year ago via the Internet. This summer, Texas A&M was chosen and a contract signed for what is being called the Missyplicity Project.
Missy, a collie-husky mix who at 11 years old is getting up there, has already been flown to the university in College Station, 180 miles south of Dallas, to have tissue samples taken.
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"I think it's extremely valuable" research, Dr. Mark Westhusin, co-director of the university's Reproductive Sciences Laboratory, said Tuesday. "It goes beyond the impetus of cloning dogs."
And it's no joke, said Lou Hawthorne, president of Bio Arts and Research Corp., or BARC, of San Francisco. The company served as the go-between for the dog-loving millionaire in his negotiations with Texas A&M.
"We have gone out of our way to make sure with this project that if the animals could talk, they would feel this was a positive project to be associated with," Hawthorne said.
He said the dog's owner demanded anonymity because he "just doesn't want to deal with a lot of disruptions" from the news media.
Scientists have made carbon copies of mice, cows and sheep, but not dogs.
Texas A&M already has an extensive research program involving cloning of livestock.
Besides making a litter of Missy pups, the Texas A&M scientists hope to learn more about canine reproduction and improve contraception and sterilization methods, Westhusin said. He said the project could also lead to the replication of exceptional animals, such as guide dogs or rescue dogs.
Hawthorne said one reason dog cloning has not been done before is that dogs' reproductive physiology is more complicated than that of some other animals.
"If we're very lucky, we should have puppies within a year," he said.
The only words from Missy's owners are on BARC's Web site, where they describe falling in love with their dog at first sight.
"At the pound, we met Missy, a stray. She was 4 months old, frisky, and oh so beautiful," they wrote. "I offered a howl to her and she raised her nose and howled at the roof. I barked at her and she barked right back, a low rich-toned, businesslike bark. I whined, she whined."
Written by Susan Montoya