CC the Cat, the first cloned cat in creation turns five years old today. She lives at Texas A&M where she was born, enjoying her notoriety in peaceful seclusion from those who would hurt or maim her for ethical reasons (sounds a bit off, doesn’t it?).
CC (presumably an acronym for “cloned cat”) represents a scientific advancement towards sorting out all kinds of genetic diseases. However, as a cat, she has a leg up on Dolly, who happens to have the personality of…well…a sheep.
Somehow, cloning a cat seems so much more real than cloning a ruminant farm animal—especially one with no personality (perhaps they should have cloned a goat instead). Being a cat, CC has allowed us, for better or worse, to think more personally on the issues surrounding cloning and genetic manipulation in general.
Perhaps that’s why the animal rights extremists and religious fundamentalists have joined forces against her existence. She’s an equal-opportunity political tool for these unlikely bedfellows.
I prefer to think of CC in terms more applicable to my daily work life. The fact of her creation, artificial such as it was, has inadvertently given hope to a growing number of cat fanciers. These people, eager to see their own pets or breeding stock replicated, look to CC as a way of extending their relationships with their own beloved cats.
I have one particular example of this devotion that I’ll never forget:
Pluto was one of my best patients—ever. He was an unusually social, hyper vocal Siamese cat. When I met him he was already eleven years old or thereabouts. His was the first serious dog bite case I followed from beginning to end.
While he remained in hospital for weeks, recovering slowly, he managed to wrap us around his little brown paw. We were his subjects and as such, we rarely failed to do his bidding. Some cats are just special that way.
Pluto’s father was a wheelchair-bound older gentleman—an educated, professorial type who conducted his visits from the front seat of his specially equipped van. He adored his cat so much that one day he earnestly confessed that he was looking into having Pluto cloned.
I was perhaps three yeas out of school at this time and had never before met anyone who articulated such an eccentric vision as an expression of devotion for their pet. Furthermore, this guy was serious. He was a scientist at the University of Miami and claimed to know that work in this area was in progress at other institutions around the country. He honesty felt his cat was the best pet ever and wanted to see his likeness on his lap well into the future—especially now that Pluto was in precarious shape.
I might well have forgotten the incident but for the fact that, knowing Pluto, I knew what he was talking about. This cat was beyond wonderful—personality, appearance, general health (excepting his misguided fondness for dogs)—I, too, would have taken in a Pluto clone in a second.
I also had cause to remember the incident when Pluto finally died five years or so later—of natural causes. His owner soon succumbed thereafter. It’s not inconceivable to think that Pluto was this guy’s raison d’etre, his life’s number one guiding force, and that when he died his owner had no reason to live.
In fact, I see this all the time. I’ve seen other older men, in particular, become so attached to their pets that it’s obvious that the pet’s very existence is what keeps them going. When the pet is gone the owner’s spirit goes with it—or s it would seem. Scientific research done on heart attack survivors supports this hypothesis well. Pets keep us people in the land of the living.
Cloning a cat is perhaps an extreme example of what it would take to keep someone anchored to life. But on CC’s birthday, I can think of no better way to celebrate: thinking of all my patients and their extremely attached parents who’s tenuous hold on life depends on their beloved pets and the work we vets do to keep them healthy.