SAN FRANCISCO – Even for the most devoted pet lovers, there's a limit to how far they will go to have their favorite feline or canine for life.
Genetic Savings & Clone, a biotechnology company that sold cloned pets, sent letters to its customers last month informing them it will close at the end of the year because of little demand for cloned cats. The company had recently reduced the price from $50,000 to $32,000.
The letters said the Sausalito company was not accepting new orders for clones because it was "unable to develop the technology to the point that cloning pets is commercially viable."
Company chief executive Lou Hawthorne did not immediately return telephone calls Wednesday. A message on the company's answering machine said it was no longer taking orders and referred customers interested in freezing their pets genetic material to the Austin, Texas-based biotechnology company ViaGen Inc.
A ViaGen spokeswoman confirmed that Genetic Savings & Clone had closed and had refunded cloning fees.
The company was launched by billionaire and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, who had hoped to have his hunting dog, Missy, cloned — a feat that was never accomplished.
Since the company opened for business in 2000, it was behind the creation of five cloned cats, but sold only two to paying customers. The first commercially cloned cat was named Little Nicky and was delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a cat she owned for 17 years.
The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was created from DNA from her beloved cat, Nicky, who died the previous year. That kitten's creation and sale reignited fierce ethical and scientific debate over cloning technology, which is rapidly advancing.
Aside from human cloning, which has not been achieved even at the microscopic embryo stage, no cloning project has fueled more debate than the marketing plans of Genetic Savings & Clone.
Animals rights activists complained that new feline production systems aren't needed because thousands of stray cats are euthanized each year for want of homes. Those groups were elated Wednesday at news of the company's demise.
"It's no surprise the demand for cloned pets is basically nonexistent, and we're very pleased that Genetics Savings & Clone's attempt to run a cloning pet store was a spectacular flop," said Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States. "It's not just a bad business venture, but also an operation grounded on the misuse of animals."
Pacelle and other groups argue that cloning is still primitive and fails more often than it succeeds.
"For every successful clone, dozens fail and die prematurely, have physical abnormalities, and face chronic pain and suffering," Pacelle said. "Cloning is at odds with basic animal welfare considerations."