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Instagram and TikTok’s new pet influencers are cloned cats and dogs

Grieving pet owners who can’t bear to say goodbye to their four-legged friends are driving the latest crop of social media influencers: cloned cats and dogs.

Kelly Anderson said she was devastated when her 5-year-old cat, Chai, died unexpectedly in 2017.

“I’ve never had a relationship with a human like I had with her,” the 32-year-old Austin dog trainer said. “I was very distraught the day he died.”

Kelly Anderson said her first cat, Chai, died suddenly after complications from surgery.

Kelly Anderson

The tan and white rag doll had 85,000 followers on Anderson’s Instagram account @adogandacat when she died from complications after surgery.

“I lost about 20,000 followers on Instagram after Chai’s death,” he explained.

Anderson said he sent a sample of Chai’s DNA to the Texas-based pet cloning company ViaGen Pets shortly after his death. It took Anderson four years and $25,000 to come up with a successful clone, and now he’s back in business with Chai’s identical genetic clone named Belle, who was born in 2021.

Belle is a genetic replica of Anderson’s cloned cat, Chai.

Kelly Anderson

Photos of Belle now fill Chai’s old Instagram feed, along with photos of Anderson’s husky, Ghost. Anderson, who documented the cloned kitten’s journey on Instagram, said it was not sponsored by ViaGen. As of the publication date of this article, the account has almost 65,000 followers.

“Some people can buy a car, I bought a clone,” Anderson said. “For me, yes, it was worth it. I think she was the most important part of my life.”

When Anderson said he contacted ViaGen in 2017, the price to clone a cat was $25,000. Today, the company charges $35,000 for cats and $50,000 for a dog.

“People have problems with how much money it is,” Anderson explained. “But at the end of the day, it’s my money, and no one should be telling other people how to spend their own money.”

Samie

Texas-based ViaGen cloned Barbara Streisand’s dog, Sammie, in 2018, resulting in two exact copies of her beloved pet, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet.

“So what a cloned animal is is essentially an identical twin of the original pet,” explained Melain Rodriguez, ViaGen’s customer service manager.

Rodriguez said the cloning process begins with a small skin sample that can be taken from the animal when it is alive and then stored for use later or within five days of the pet’s death.

“That tissue sample goes back to our lab that you see here, and we grow millions of cells from that skin sample,” Rodríguez said.

The lab inside ViaGen Pets in Cedar Park, Texas.

ViaGen Pets

From there, ViaGen takes an egg from a donor animal and fuses it with the cells that have grown and an embryo begins to grow.

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“Then those embryos are placed into a surrogate animal that will gestate, give birth, nurse and care for that puppy or kitten until it is weaned,” Rodriguez explained.

Surrogate mothers typically have one or two litters before being spayed and adopted, at the customer’s request, into a home after their puppies or kittens are weaned, the company said. Most litters are small, producing one or two young.

But sometimes the process results in multiple clones from a single litter.

That’s exactly what happened when 29-year-old photographer and pet enthusiast Courtney Udvar-Hazy cloned her wolfdog, Willow, who died in 2018. Unexpectedly, the cloning process brought her new dog Phoenix to life already. five more genetically identical copies. in 2019.

When ViaGen told Udvar-Hazy that there were six genetically identical clones of her dog, Willow, she said she was “impressed.”

Courtney Udvar-Hazy

Udvar-Hazy turned to cloning after her 2-year-old dog, known as @Wander_With_Willow on Instagram, ran away from a pet sitter and was tragically hit by a car while visiting family for Thanksgiving.

“She was like my daughter, my everything,” Udvar-Hazy recalled. “So she was in a position where she would have just done anything for her legacy to continue.”

Courtney Udvar-Hazy said she was devastated when she lost her dog, Willow.

Courtney Udvar-Hazy

He said his father told him about cloning and they decided to send a sample of Willow’s skin to ViaGen.

Wolfdog Clone Pack

Udvar-Hazy said she was “impressed” when she got the call from ViaGen that Phoenix and a small pack of clones had arrived. Recalling the day she picked up her puppies from ViaGen, she said, “I couldn’t believe that was real, all the girls were getting out of the car.”

He decided to give the five genetic copies of Willow to several of his closest friends. The clone owners now often gather “the girls” for games and photo shoots, which Udvar-Hazy shares on Instagram and TikTok. ViaGen offers multiple clones to its customers or helps them adopt them if the customer doesn’t accept them, the company said.

The company said it culls clones only if they are born with a life-threatening health problem.

Udvar-Hazy’s “Wander with Willow” accounts are now filled with images of Willow’s clone, Phoenix. To anyone except Udvar-Hazy, the two look identical.

Courtney Udvar-Hazy with her dog Willow as a puppy on the left and her clone Phoenix as a puppy on the right.

Courtney Udvar-Hazy

And while Willow never achieved Instagram influencer status, her clone’s second life online has taken off.

“On TikTok, that’s what really blew up,” he said. “I started that just a few months ago, and we already have 1 million followers.”

Courtney Udvar-Hazy with Phoenix, a genetic replica of her dog, Willow.

Courtney Udvar-Hazy

While both Udvar-Hazy and Anderson say they paid full price for their clones and neither posts sponsored content about cloning, ViaGen is looking for pet influencer partners, and that’s where famous Insta influencer Tinkerbelle the Dog comes in.

Tinkerbelle is a 5-pound papillon Maltese mix who has over 800,000 followers on social media. The little star is a verified celebrity on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook with the check mark to prove it.

Photos of Tinkerbelle modeling, acting, and traveling have attracted more than half a million followers on Instagram.

sam carell

Sam Carrell, owner of a children’s dance school, rescued Tinkerbelle from a shelter in 2012, and the diminutive pup’s modeling and acting career began when she was spotted by an animal talent agent on the streets of New York City. York.

About a year later, Carrell said, Tinkerbelle booked her first campaign for Ralph Lauren, and since then she’s been on theater, booked national commercials and even walked in Fashion Week.

Behind the scenes of Tinkerbelle’s photo shoot for Ralph Lauren.

sam carell

Carrell said managing Tinkerbelle’s career is now her full-time job.

“I never dreamed of having a dog in the first place and couldn’t have imagined becoming this celebrity overnight,” Carrell said. “I’m running his daily schedule, and shots, and this and that.”

After ViaGen approached him about partnering in 2018, Carrell said he saved his famous dog’s DNA and posted the decision to his more than 500,000 followers on Instagram. Preserving Tinkerbelle’s DNA gives her the option of duplicating the aged pup, who is now 10 years old, or 60 in dog years. ViaGen generally charges $1,600 to preserve a pet’s DNA and an annual storage fee of $150 per year. Carrell said she can’t reveal any details about the partnership.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but definitely her celebrity status plays a key role in everything, in every decision I make in life,” Carrell explained.

The Humane Society of the United States does not recommend cloning your pet, said Executive Director Kitty Block, pointing to the millions of animals in need of good homes.

The loss of a pet, while tragic, could be seen as an opportunity to meet a new animal with its own quirks and personality, he said.

“I can certainly understand why someone would want to clone their animal,” Block said. “We have our time with our animals that we love, but trying to extend it artificially doesn’t help the next animal.”

While clones are genetic copies, they don’t always look exactly the same. In some cloned animals there are small variations in the coat such as coloration or spots.

And if you’re wondering if a dog’s or cat’s personality and temperament are passed on to their clone, that part is less clear.

Udvar-Hazy said her dog Willow used to throw toys up in the air and try to catch them, something Phoenix also does instinctively.

“Phoenix started doing that when he was a puppy, so I would say that’s the biggest feature that makes Willow unique,” Udvar-Hazy said.

Manika Ward, a 29-year-old singer, songwriter and TV presenter, cloned her 14-year-old childhood dog, a Maltese named Angel, who died of natural causes in July 2017. Her genetic replica, Gel-E, which was born that November and delivered to her Las Vegas home the following January, looks identical and has similar qualities, Ward said.

Manika Ward with her first dog, Angel.

Manika District

“Personality-wise, there are a lot of things that are very similar, including random little quirks that he does,” Ward explained. “When he jumps on his hind legs to get attention, it’s hard to describe how he does it, but he alternates his hind legs the opposite of how he alternates his front legs. Only Angel did that.”

Also, Ward thinks it’s possible that one of his cats, who knew Angel before he passed away, might also feel a connection to his clone.

Gel-E is a genetic replica of Ward’s first dog, Angel.

Manika District

“A really cool thing is the first day I bought Gel-E, one of my cats, Cosmo, who knew Angel and they were friends, the first night they slept on the couch together,” Ward said. “It was great how they immediately came together.”

Beyond the looks and the little quirks, Ward says that holding Gel-E in her arms makes her feel like part of Angel is still with her.

“I feel like they say, when you love someone, they’re never really gone, they live on,” Ward said. “It’s extra strong because literally a part of Angel lives right here, he’s living and breathing.”

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