Nancyeclark's Blog


AM I NUTS?

I think I may finally, at the age of 53, found my true path in life. I am seriously considering going back to school. Whether that happens or not (and the reasons would be financial), I believe I must work with animals, in animal welfare, somehow, someway. I have seen, heard, watched and learned enough now to know that it is just as important as working to end poverty, injustice and cruelty anywhere…and those things will still be on the agenda too…but animals are truly where my future lies.

I believe that a society must be measured on the way it treats its most vulnerable…the children…the elderly…and the ones who have no voice of their own…the animals who share our lives, our communities, our supper table and our planet.

I have spent the last two years fostering cats and helping my local shelter, writing letters about whales, seals, cats, dogs, horses, burros, cows, slaughter, round ups and gathers etc., etc., etc.; urging legislation, signing petitions, joining groups, emailing, calling MPP’s, MP’s and Senators, Presidents and Congressmen and women, annoying friends and family and just generally dipping my feet into the pond.

I started this blog that no one reads and I do not have too much time for these days, I have learned about supportive care, sub-cu fluids, bottle feeding, hygiene, multi cat household issues, illness, diseases and viral shedding, disinfection, parasites, injuries, death and euthanization. Now I think it is time to back up my internet and library research and pestering of shelter workers, local vets and vet assist and vet techs…and become one of them.

I would like to learn more about the care of the animals I tend to and love, and maybe it would help me get a job at a shelter where I could make more of a difference than what I am doing now. What I would like to know is if you all think I am nuts to consider something like this at my stage of life. Comments are welcome.



THE ‘”OO” FACTOR

I am sure we have all heard of the  “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone  says ”aww”.  Everyone who has never done it that is.

4. hungry rodney

The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.

Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.

Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.

Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.

And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.

When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.

When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.

The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.

This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.

Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that  god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.

But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.



ANIMAL VOICES-ARTICLE ON FOSTERING CATS FOR THE OSPCA

The Following is an article I wrote for the OSPCA Magazine ‘Animals’ Voice” – part of which appeared in the most recent edition.

This is the full article…

Fostering: A Win, Win, Win Situation

By Nancy E. Clark

Dedicated to Fingal, Finlay, Fiona, Darla, Eden, Lilith, Libby, Cain, Abel, Bib, Bailey, Quince, Baldric, Garnet, Domino, Bramble, Zorra, Echo, Julia, Mighty Mouse, Thor, Keiko, Youko, Jet, Smokey, Addy, Teddy, Sally, Juliet, Spook, Robin, and all the fosters who have allowed me to share a small part of their lives.

I began fostering cats for the Lennox & Addington OSPCA in 2008, because I love animals, cats in particular, and I wanted to help them and my local shelter; I had time and love to give, but not a lot of money. I am also lucky enough to have a husband who is patient and kind and helpful; and a room or two I can close off to isolate the newcomers for the duration of their stay, or just until it is a good time to introduce them to the general population. We have a large family of cats of our own…spayed, neutered and up to date on all their shots. All but 3 (rescues) are shelter cats, adopted over many years and ranging in age from 1 to 12. I taught my children to be wary of strangers, but my cats have had to learn to be open and accepting of strangers and patient with kittens. After I began fostering, I realized that not only is it an important (and mostly unrecognized) part of saving animals…but the wonder of birth, the delight & pride in a blossoming personality, the amusement afforded by cats of all shapes and sizes and the downright hilarity of their antics at times…makes the job so satisfying I may never stop.

Usually it is pregnant mums who arrive at our house in Selby…a few hours, days or weeks before they deliver or just after the babies are born. Sometimes it is right smack dab in the middle of delivery, as in the case of Eden, who went into labour in the carrier on the way home and had her first kitten an hour and a half later. Quite the introduction!

The expectant/new mums are given a room which is as comfortable and clean as I can make it…with various ‘nesting’ boxes and bins so they can choose a comfortable place to have/keep their babies. The closet is the most popular spot, with a towel-lined plastic bin inside and a curtain over the opening. There is clean water and food nearby and a fresh litter box. When given the time (prior to birth), I spend time with the mums…earning their trust and building a bond that will allow me to keep track of their health and that of their litter…and to help mum be calm and happy and eat well for the babies and to begin building on her adoptability for the future.

Occasionally it is a feral/semi feral or timid cat or kitten we have to work with and socialize…lots of patience, baby food and play required, but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when they come out of hiding and let you stroke them and eventually encourage their personalities to blossom. It’s the same feeling I had when my step-daughter trustingly took my hand the first time.

Fostering is defined as “to promote the growth of, to help develop, to afford, receive or share nourishment; the foster person stands in the relation of parent, etc., as regards sustenance and nurture, but not by tie of blood.” (or species in this respect)

Nourishment is not enough, however…but nurture comes close. Webster’s Dictionary includes this: To Nurture, Nourish, Cherish. Nourish denotes to supply with food, or cause to grow; as, to nourish a plant. To nurture is to train up with a fostering care, like that of a mother; as, to nurture into strength; to nurture in sound principles. To cherish is to hold and treat as dear; as, to cherish hopes or affections. [1913 Webster]

I really like that definition…nurture, nourish, cherish. That’s the foundation of why and how I foster. To provide a warm, safe home, proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, exercise, playtime and training. To schedule (and show up for) shots and de-worming and surgeries, to provide supportive care to the ill, to ask for vet care if needed, to apply or give medicines, to be the parent the animal deserves. To work with the staff at the shelter to keep everyone as healthy as possible. But it is so much more than that, it is also the cherishing…to hold dear, love, snuggle, be endlessly patient with, to fight for them like a mother, but accept the inevitable if it comes, to grieve for them when they leave, to give them all you can to give them a fighting chance at a long, happy, contented life…because it may break your heart many times over, but fostering gives you transports of joy, much love, and satisfaction on a massive scale…healing the heartbreak and drying your tears.

It is the cherishing that is both the easiest and the hardest part of the job…and probably the most misunderstood part…the animals are both yours and not yours…and that can cause the odd moment of friction between the staff and me.

Fostering cats and kittens is a marvellous and wonderful experience, full of laughter and smiles. Having babies in the house is a constant wonder…touching, hysterically funny at times and always new…because even if they are not people…kittens and cats are individuals…each completely unique. Watching them grow from tiny eating/sleeping machines into lively, happy and distinctive personalities is a privilege and a pleasure. Normally, all you have to do is the basics of nourish, nurture and cherish. You bring them up; play with them, teach them manners (at least some), live with a chronically messy house because kittens will chase and play and leave your towels on the floor, your every nook and cranny explored and their toys on the stairs. Kittens, until taught what not to do, will get into all that they can find in hopes it is play-able…so kitten proofing starts at floor level and gets steadily higher as they grow. All too soon, they have their first shots etc. and then their surgeries, they go up for adoption and you send them off to their new people with lots of tears and a huge smile.

That, by the way, is my favourite part of fostering, waving goodbye as my “children” head off into their new life…that and cuddling babies of course.

But occasionally things go very wrong. Julia, for example, had 4 babies, all extremely sick from day 2 on. We had to euthanize Mighty Mouse and Thor within days…Keiko survived to 6 weeks and then began to suffer breathing problems and we lost her too. Youko survived against all the odds and is doing well at 9 months…adopted out and happy. Then there are all the other problems that can crop up…parasites, viruses like Calici, Herpes and Corona: the problem often lies with the mum, having no idea of her exposures or carrier status, and whether my own cats can spread/catch viruses they may or may not have been exposed to years ago; as careful as you are with hand washing, disinfection and isolation…things happen. I find it hard to give up even when I know in my heart there is no hope. Henny Venus, the Shelter’s Manager and the staff have been wonderful in this respect, helping me learn to recognize the point at which to say…enough. To always recognize that these creatures are my responsibility, yes, and that I love them, yes, but they are OSPCA cats, and I must respect their experience and decision making. I think that is the hardest part of fostering…remembering always that these animals are mine in every sense of the word, except in actual fact. When you love them, it feels that they are only yours. And you have to love them to let them flower and flourish. Henny has always been kind to me in this respect, simply pointing out to me the things I know in my heart to be true, and allowing me to feel involved.

Fostering can be fun and easy and rewarding. It can be painful and hard but still rewarding. It is the luck of the draw. We have had both kinds…with the good ones vastly outnumbering the tough ones. Good or bad, happy or sad, it is a job worth doing…for them and for me.

Working with Henny and Heather and Rebecca, Haili, Jackie and Meghan and Bernice (before she retired) and the volunteers has been, overall, a wonderful experience. They are skilled and kind and supportive. They are also extremely patient with me, as I tend to be a pain in the butt kind of foster parent…perhaps over protective and sometimes unsure of my own knowledge, ability and experience. I have learned so much from them and enjoy working with them always.

There are so many good things about fostering. It brings me volumes of love and affection, it allows me to help animals get their chance at a good life, it has taught me lessons in care, in training, in teamwork, in gratitude, in life, love and letting go. I have learned discipline and sacrifice and not to mind cat hair everywhere and that kittens can be very, very bad…cute but bad. I have learned to respect and admire the people at the OSPCA and the often unrecognized difficult job they do for all the animals our society abandons, abuses, surrenders and neglects.

There are questions about fostering that may make you reluctant to start. Is it time consuming? Sometimes. Does it require some financial input? Yes, it can…with toys and litter and food…although many shelters provide food, and they all look after the medical stuff. Is it wrong to take in or raise an animal, bond with it, love it, and then see it adopted out into a stranger’s home? Isn’t that abandonment?

Well, yes it is…BUT…unless you plan on keeping every single foster animal…which would be impossible…being fostered can give the cat or kitten a much better chance at a wonderful forever home: a stray, a timid animal, an injured one or the new lives, the kittens, get to learn that people are gentle & kind, that cuddling and playing are encouraged, that food will never be in short supply, that there are soft, warm places to nap when you are tired. The socialization they receive makes them happier and that makes them much more adoptable. The whole idea behind sheltering and fostering is to find these animals homes…good homes for the rest of their lives. Adopting them out does provide some stress and distress for these animals…but ultimately it is the best ending for them, and they will soon learn to love & trust their new family…if we have done our job and taught them that people are good companions. We can help to make the match between animal and home the right one….so there should be fewer problems and fewer returns.

Fostering takes animals out of the shelter and the stresses inherent in that environment and gives them a happy home to grow up in or live and learn in, while they wait for the right person or family to come along and fall in love with them. Foster parents can learn so much about an animal’s personality and behaviour that they can help potential adopters decide if the adoptive animal is going to be a good match…because even using wonderful programs like SAFER or the OSPCA’s Feline-ality, it cannot tell you as much about them, because animals do not behave like themselves in shelters as much as they do in a home environment.

If you like or love animals…cats, dogs…whatever…if you have some space, time and love…if you like the idea of helping unwanted ones find homes…if you would like to foster an animal…please contact your local OSPCA branch or affiliate…your local shelter, rescue or humane society. You will fill out some forms and answer some questions, and they may come and take a look at your accommodations. Fostering can give you an idea of the kind of pet you want, if you do not currently have one, and it is temporary…not a life-long commitment (at first). Fostering is a wonderful way to help many animals instead of just one or two. You will change your life and that of the animals in your care for the better, and I am sure you will never regret your decision to open up your home—and your heart.



Nevada Continues War Against Wild Horses

Nevada Continues War Against Wild Horses.



Why Horses ? kind of an update…
March 30, 2011, 8:14 pm
Filed under: horses | Tags: , , , , ,

They have given us so much. Pulled our plows, carried our worldly goods, carried us, broadened our horizons, gone to war with us, given us milk and food, entertained us with their speed and skill, rounded up our cattle, pulled our boats and wagons, turned the mills; the mail was their province, their speed, stamina endurance and strength ours. They have enchanted us with their beauty and intelligence and spirit, rewarded us with their loyalty. They enthral us with their wild spirit and ability to survive.

We have used them and abused them. Bred them for size and shape, speed and strength, agility and pace. We have shaped them to fit our needs and wants. We have raced them, ridden them, terrified our enemies with them, traded them, eaten them, taken their milk and foals,  cossetted them, starved them, rounded them up and turned them into dog food, worshipped and revered them. They are symbols of beauty and freedom and yet we treat them so damn badly. We overbreed them, we stand them in stalls forever pregnant to produce the hormones that keep our aging at bay, we race them after breeding them for speed at the loss of bone and then put them down when their bones break. We round them up from land and air, terrified and hurt, we fence them from water, we use them for target practice, we protect them by law and then treat them like pests…and no one gives a damn because it doesn’t affect our pocket books. Little girls love them…books and stories and movies are made about them. Their names are part of our culture…Misty…Black Beauty…Flicka…The Black… Our history would be very different without them. We were carried into the frontier by them, and what do we give them in return….crops and whips, starvation and abuse, roundups where foals die and mares abort and dehydration kills, and then send them to god knows where…the end is often a harrowing and horrific transport to an inhumane and awful death at a Mexican or Canadian slaughter house.

What we owe to horses is a debt so big we can never pay it…yet pay they do. We owe them respect, love, affection, food, water, exercise, green grass, flowing water, land to roam on. We owe them decent stabling, exercise, company and not to be over worked or discarded. We owe them a life of fulfillment and peace. They can still work with us, entertain us, enchant us and carry us over jumps and round racetracks…but with care and respect and humanity. We can let the wild ones be free…let them have the land intended for them, allow them access to water, stop seeing them as pests and grazing stealers. Allow the wild ones, the ones that trace their bloodlines in part back to the Conquistadors, the protection and freedom that the bill of 1971 says they should have in the United States and the protection they do not have but should have here in Canada. Politicians in Canada and the States should be ashamed of themselves when they look at the sate of the wild horse, the state of horses in general. In Canada we cannot even agree that they are wild…only feral and not worth protecting…so any Tom Dick or Harry can round them up or shoot them or abuse them…so much so, there are almost none left…about 800 in all. In the States the horses and burros are at least protected by law…but the protectors are now the abusers. In Canada, our oh so kind and gentle and smug land, we slaughter horses for the world…Japan, Belgium, France…and we do it in a way that no animal should ever have to suffer…see the video available from inside a slaughter house. We have rules governing their transport to slaughter…so much headroom on double decker trucks, and yet no one enforces the rules; horses end up injured, maimed and dead before they ever reach the place where they die a horrific, inhumane and terribly cruel death.

What did the horse ever do to deserve any of this? Granted, you cannot curl up on a sofa with one or take them for a drive and a game of fetch…but they are a companion animal more than they are livestock. If you want to argue that point…that livestock are for eating, I mean…but that is for another day. Horses have families in the wild, social structure, communication; they live in groups with specific hierarchies and rules and familial associations…they nurture their young and grieve their losses. Horses befriend us and work with us and provide us with companionship as well as offering up their size, strength and speed. We would not be where we are today without the horse and yet we continue to abuse them on all fronts…by overbreeding and discarding them, by seeing them as competition for grazing on land that was supposed to be for them and not for cattle, by allowing competitions like horse tripping and abuse like soring…there are so many horrible things we do to an animal that deserves none of it…it amazes me sometimes that the news isn’t filled with stories of horses fighting back…horse militias gathering weapons…marauding gangs of horse youths…marches…placard carrying protestors….petitions……..wait a minute…horses cannot do that for themselves….we have to do it for them. So get involved (you will find some links here at this blog)…write your MP, your Representative…sign all the petitions out there…join an Advocacy group…call the White House…get going and get moving before it is too late for the wild ones…before any more horses are eaten in your local restaurant…before another truckload passes you on the highway…………

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“Slaughterhouse” Sue Wallis Fawns over Pro-Slaughter BLM King Pin

She actually says she wants to ‘partner’ with the BLM. She is also part of the so called Summit on hoses and is trying to build slaughterhouses in Wyoming.“Slaughterhouse” Sue Wallis Fawns over Pro-Slaughter BLM King Pin.



They clone horses don’t they?

“If scientific discovery has not been an unalloyed blessing, if it has conferred on mankind the power not only to create but also to annihilate, it has at the same time provided humanity with a supreme challenge and a supreme testing”  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Science by itself has no moral dimension. But it does seek to establish truth. And upon this truth morality can be built”  Dr. William H. Masters

“Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man’s power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.”  Madame de Stael

I would like to begin this page by saying I am not a scientist in any way shape or form and if I get my facts wrong, am totally open to correction.

I just read a disturbing report about Sue Wallis, an American politician from Wyoming who is trying to set up a slaughterhouse for horses in her state, and an organization called the UOH, of which she is Executive Director. UOH, The United Organization of the Horse. Please do not be fooled by the rather innocuous, seemingly pro-horse title of this organization. It sounds like a group working for the good of horses…but what it actually is, is a  trade/lobbying group who takes contributions from horse slaughter interests, from the U.S Export Meat Federation, livestock and cattlemen organizations and from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which is the lobbying arm of cloning and genetic engineering companies like Monsanto and ViaGen (who are actively cloning horses). They say they are concerned about the large numbers of ‘unwanted horses’ in the U.S….if so why would they be talking about cloning horses for slaughter, while killing off the natural ones? Real or cloned, slaughtering horses for food is a moral and ethical issue that has not got the support of the majority of North Americans. And cloning is another issue that raises its own moral and ethical questions.

Cloning occurs naturally in plants and some insects and has been used in horticulture for centuries. But I have found myself wanting to learn more about cloning, the kind of cloning that raises those moral and ethical questions for a lot of people, something that was in the news a lot, but has not been covered too much lately. As I understand it, cloning is a word that encompasses several different processes for “duplicating biological material” . There are  apparently three main types;  recombinant DNA cloning, therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. When I read about cloning, when there is talk about cloning horses for slaughter, or for breeding, they are usually talking about reproductive cloning.

As I understand it, recombinant DNA cloning has been around for years and is often used to  make multiple copies of the same gene for scientists to study and use in gene therapy, genetic engineering, and sequencing genomes.    

Therapeutic cloning is when they grow human embryos for use in research and to harvest stem cells. They are not creating cloned human beings, but remove the stem cells from the embryos to study and to use in treating diseases like cancer. Stem cells are removed from the egg after it has divided for 5 days…killing the embryo, which raises ethical and moral concerns for many people and has a lot of opposition.  

Reproductive cloning is the one I am really interested in. It is the type of cloning which first gave us a cloned tadpole in 1952 and it gave us Dolly, the Finn Dorset sheep, the first mammal to be cloned. The product of reproductive cloning is an animal that has the same nuclear DNA as another animal, but it is not identical, because some of its genes come from elsewhere in the egg and are not ‘reprogrammed’ the same way. Genes from the nucleus of a donor cell are transferred to an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The  egg is then treated to encourage cell division. Once it reaches the right stage, it is implanted into the womb of a surrogate to continue growing naturally until it is born. These clones will not be identical duplicates…only their chromosomal/nuclear DNA is the same. Some of the clones genetic materials come from the mitochondria in the egg. Mitochondria contain their own little bits of DNA and “acquired mutations in mitochondrial DNA are believed to play an important role in the aging process” and some scientists believe that “ errors or incompleteness in the reprogramming process cause the high rates of death, deformity, and disability often  seen among animal clones.”  Also unknown in this process is the effect of the surrogate that carries the baby and is so closely connected to it.

Another part of the problem with cloning is the low success rate; Dolly  was the only success out of 276 tries.  Prometea, the first cloned horse (born in 2003) came from 841 male and female embryos out of which only 8 male and 14 females developed to the blastocyst stage ( 5 days of cell division). Only 17 embryos were able to be implanted, and only 4 pregnancies came from those and Prometea was the only one out of all those to survive. Reproductive cloning, it is hoped, can dependably and constantly reproduce animals who are special or have special qualities. In the case of horses, ViaGen  (among others) is actively cloning Quarter horses and others to preserve bloodlines and to extend the breeding life of stallions and mares by creating newer duplicates. Reproductive cloning can probably be used to help endangered species, such as the gaur which was, in 2001, the first clone of an endangered wild animal to be born (it died from infection shortly after birth). In the same year,  Italian scientists reported cloning a mouflon, an endangered wild sheep.  I cannot find enough information on what would happen if clones breed. They can if bred with a non clone.

Reproductive cloning is still expensive and not terribly successful, although success rates are better now than they were when Dolly and Promotea were born. More than 1000 nuclear transfers could be required to produce between 1-3 viable clones. Cloned animals sometimes have weakened immune systems and suffer more infections and  tumours, and other problems such as LOS or large organ syndrome, which can cause unnaturally large babies or babies with organs too large for their bodies. Many clones just haven’t lived long enough for us to know how they age, because being healthy as babies does not adumbrate life-long health or even simple survival. Problems may come from ‘programming errors’ in the genetic material from a donor cell. When an embryo is created by natural means (the old fashioned way) from the union of sperm and egg, it gets copies of most genes from both its parents. Something called “imprinting” chemically marks the DNA from the mother and father so that only one copy of a gene is ‘turned on’. Defects in the genetic ‘imprint’ of DNA from a single donor cell may lead to some of the abnormalities of cloned animals, because we  program which ones turn on, not nature, and we may not get it right.

So, cloning is being done, but the success rates are still prohibitive. As is the cost. You can find ads for companies that will clone your horse for you in equine magazines and there are those who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clone their pets. (Why anyone would do that is beyond me, discovering love with a new friend is so much better, even if you grieve forever for your lost pet.) Farmers have cloned hundreds of cows and the offspring of these cloned animals have already entered the food supply.

The following came from an article in Newsweek Magazine….(the bits in parentheses are mine)….

“Should consumers be afraid? There is some evidence that cloned animals show a higher propensity for developmental problems, such as mental retardation. That would be tragic in a human, but the milk from a retarded cow is not necessarily any different from the milk from a smarter than average cow. Indeed, the European scientists found no compositional or nutritional differences in the milk or meat derived from clones, and “no evidence of any abnormal effects” in the progeny of cloned animals. (most studies only studied 5 or 6 animals…not exactly exhaustive)

New research about genetics may be indirectly fueling fears about cloning. Scientists have learned in recent years that what goes on in the cell’s molecular machinery is far more complicated than they used to think. Epigeneticists have begun to enumerate ways in which traits can be passed from one generation to the next that have nothing to do with DNA. This raises the theoretical possibility that cloning may have unintended effects even though a cloned animal is an exact DNA replica of the original. “Although successful clones may appear normal, the possibility remains that some may harbor subtle genetic defects that could impair their health or make them unsafe for consumption,” said the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement. Most anticloning groups use similar reasoning in calling for more time and more studies before cloned meat and milk are allowed to be sold as food. “If you don’t get all the details, you don’t know your subject,” says Sonja Van Tichelen, director of the Eurogroup for Animals.

The problem with epigenetic effects is that nobody knows what they might be, or even if, in the case of cloned livestock, they would have any effect worth noting. The safety authorities in the United States and Europe have apparently reasoned that a theoretical possibility is not reason enough to ban the practice.”

(Are these the same people who said cattle and pigs could eat dead cattle and pigs and that that would be safe? Remember Creutzfeld-Jacob disease and the Mad Cow Mess? Mad Cow is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy…a prion disease that may sometimes come from a genetically mutated prion. )

Why then are there those talking about cloning any animal for any reason? Even for preserving bloodlines? The companies involved in the technology do, of course, they stand to make money, but there are many concerns about cloning. Many racetracks and, I believe, the Jockey Club, have banned clones from racing, and cloned meat has not been proven safe to eat…nor has it been proven unsafe…there is simply not enough data.  There are also concerns about the welfare of the animals involved and the further commodification (if that is a word) of animals when so many people worldwide are trying to change the way animals are treated now.

 

“The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) provided an opinion on ethical aspects of animal cloning for food supply in January 2008. This complements EFSA’s work because EFSA does not have a mandate to consider ethical, moral or other societal issues beyond its scientific remit.
The EGE opinion concludes that “considering the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones, the EGE has doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified. Whether this applies also to offspring is open to further scientific research. At present, the EGE does not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.” The EGE also identifies requirements for future action should food from animal clones be introduced into Europe in the future.” from the EFSA site (European Food Safety Authority)

I believe we should be concerned that if cloning humans is not morally and ethically acceptable, why is it okay to do this, to cause suffering, to destroy countless embryos, to species other than ourselves, who have no say in the matter at all. There are so many instances of mankind doing what we think is the right thing, biologically speaking, only to find out down the road, that we have royally screwed things up, for the species involved and for ourselves. Cloning for the sake of cloning may be the wrong decision. Perhaps using a technology just because we can is not the best way forward. A step or two back, and a lot more thought, might be a very good idea. Greed is not the best impetus or guide to what we as humans should allow in business or in life.

I am not completely anti-cloning. However, nothing I have heard or read over the years has convinced me yet that it is a good thing, a necessary thing. It seems to be a technology growing and developing because we can, not because of its inherent value. And I am very concerned that we do not know enough about what we are doing when we mess around with genes, and nature, and play God. I do believe in biological diversity and its importance in nature. I believe in wide and deep gene pools being the means of evolution, change and survival for our species and all the others we share this planet with. Wild horses are already at risk because of what the BLM is doing with their culling and roundups…they do not pay attention to family and bloodlines and the shrinking gene pool they leave behind. Cheetahs are suffering because there are not enough to breed with a gene selection broad enough to produce the healthiest, most viable babies. Tigers, one of the most critically endangered species on the planet are also at risk in terms of their health and their genes.

Biological diversity is a wondrous and beautiful thing. Who would ever want things to be or to look the same? The union of sperm and egg is miraculous and what it produces, unique. Yes we can selectively breed for special qualities, but when we let babies be produced the old fashioned way, we get a surprise, an individual, a unique creature, human or animal, and I truly believe it is the way we should remain committed to…not to the production of rows of chromosomally identical clones. Just because we can…should we? I leave you with some thoughts that I find helpful when pondering the future and the welfare of animals, ourselves and our planet…

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world-that is the myth of the atomic age-as in being able to remake ourselves”  Mahatma Gandhi

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”  Alice Walker

and finally, from Thomas Jefferson, “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”