Animal lovers like Barbra Streisand who turn to cloning to perpetuate their deceased pets will need plenty of money and patience.
For one thing, only two facilities around the world offer the service: ViaGen Pets of Cedar Park, Texas, and South Korea's Soam Biotech Research Foundation. ViaGen charges $50,000 for a cloned dog and $25,000 for a cloned cat. Soam reportedly charges far more, with fees into the six figures.
In order to clone a pet, veterinarians need to collect a tissue sample from the animal New cells are then cultured and develop into an embryo which is implanted into a foster mother. A cloned pet is a twin of the donor born at a later date.
The process, though, is easier said than done.
"Dogs have a different reproductive cycle than most other mammals do, so it makes it really incredibly difficult," said Dr. Margaret Casal, an associate professor of medical genetics at the University of Pennslyvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. "You needs lots and lots and lots of embryos. Only a very few will be born."
Officials from Soam couldn't be reached, and ViaGen declined to comment.
Streisand, one of only 14 people to earn an Emmy, Oscar and a Tony, was willing to take the risk. The celebrated performer had cells taken from her Coton Du Tulear, dubbed Samantha, before the animal died at the age of 17 and had two dogs cloned. She owns a third Coton Du Tulear as well. According to the American Kennel Club, the breed is known for its "endlessly charming" personality.
"I'm waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her [Samantha's] brown eyes and seriousness," Streisand told Variety.
Ron Gillespie, owner of a company called Perpetuate that prepares an animal's tissue for cloning, said the vast majority of pet owners, and even veterinarians, remain unaware of the service despite its having been around for two decades.
"It's been our battle for 20 years," he said. "People don't think it's real. They are suspicious of it. They have lots of questions."
For its part, the Kennel Club issued a statement applauding Streisand, noting that it has donated millions to the advancement of sciences that benefits dogs.
"We hope Barbra has a happy and healthy life with her two new dogs," the organization said.
Though pet cloning is uncommon, the practice has grown increasingly common with larger animals used to produce food and breed horses. According to the Food and Drug Administration, meat from cloned animals is safe to eat. They are also as healthy as other animals, the agency maintains.
Even so, animal rights activists wonder whether the heavy price that some animal lovers pay to replicate their departed companions is money well spent given the hordes of animals languishing in animal shelters.
"We all want our beloved dogs to live forever, but while it may sound like a good idea, cloning doesn't achieve that," said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in a statement. "Instead, it creates a new and different dog who has only the physical characteristics of the original. Animals' personalities, quirks and very 'essence' simply cannot be replicated."