Jan. 30, 2009— -- For the first time on Tuesday -- $155,000 and a disgraced Korean scientist later -- the Ottos of Boca Raton, Fla., met what they hope is the yellow Labrador retriever they had lived with for 11 years.
The couple this week welcomed into their home a 10-week-old puppy aptly named Sir Lancelot Encore, a genetic clone created in South Korea by a California biotech company from the DNA of the couple's beloved dog Sir Lancelot, who died last year.
"He was a wonderful dog," said Nina Otto, 66. "Money wasn't an object. We just wanted our wonderful, loving dog back."
The first successful mammal cloned from adult cells was Dolly the sheep in 1996. Since then, scientists have cloned a growing number of animals, from cats to cows, opening doors that have allowed for the production of life-saving human pharmaceuticals and the creation of dependably hearty livestock.
But cloning pets is a relatively new and expensive procedure that not only raises questions about spending thousands of dollars to recreate a cat or dog when thousands of others languish in pounds, but about the psychic toll pet owners face when the clone of their favorite cat or dog looks -- but doesn't act -- like the original.
Nina and her husband Ed Otto bid $155,000 in an auction held last July by the California-based firm BioArts. Using genetic material, the couple took from the first "Lancy" and had frozen six years ago, the Korean company Sooam Biotech Research Foundation made an exact genetic replica of the dog -- making Encore the first commercially cloned puppy in the United States.
Sooam Biotech Research Foundation is led by the controversial scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who lost his job at Seoul National University, as well as his prominence in Korean society, in 2004 when it was discovered that he had lied about creating the first clones of human embryos and stem cells.
This week, just days after the Ottos picked up Encore from the airport, another South Korean firm, RNL Bio, announced it would provide dog cloning services at $55,000, half the average cost for the procedure.
Lancelot Encore is settling into his new home, Nina Otto said.
In just two days, the puppy has taken over his donor's old role as "alpha dog, leading the pack around already," she said. The Ottos own nine other dogs, 10 cats, sheep and parrots.
Otto said she wanted her old dog back but is prepared for the possibility that Encore might look like his donor, but not act like him.
"Nobody is exactly like anybody else," she said. "There was a 99 percent chance that he would look like Lancy and he does. He's got the same eyes and coat. There is a 50-50 chance that he will act like him. We're still the same people, a lot of the other dogs are the same, so there is a real chance he will have a similar personality."
According to Otto, the original Lancelot was "very human" and "understood our emotions and could read our body language."
The Ottos can do little but wait for Encore to grow up in order to find out if he will have the same winning personality as his namesake.
But the owners of another cloned animal have a cautionary tale.
"I'd suggest to anyone cloning an animal not to expect too much," said Sandra Reddell, who had her famous Brahmin bull, Chance, cloned.
The clone's name: Second Chance.
"It doesn't matter what species or what breed," Reddell said. "There is no guarantee it will look or act the same."
Reddell and her husband Ralph Fisher run a company from their South Texas ranch called Ralph Fisher's Photo Animals that provides live animals to events like state fairs that people can be photographed with.
For years, thousands of people lined up and stood in front of a Texas state flag to take pictures with Chance, a Brahmin bull with meter-long horns.
Soon before Chance died in 1998 at age 21, scientists at Texas A & M University offered to clone the rare breed of bull.
Reddell and Fisher jumped at the opportunity, and a year later Second Chance was born.
He looked like Chance, he ate like Chance, he even slept in the same spot under Chance's favorite tree -- but something was different.
"He looked exactly the same," Reddell said. "Chance did things very uniquely. When you feed most cattle, they'll bury their faces in the feed bucket or trough and just keep it there. Chance always put his head in the bucket, got a big mouthful and the raised his head up in the air and closed his eyes, and would just savor the sweetfeed. Second Chance ate exactly the same way.
"It really raised the hair on the back of your head, how much they looked and sometimes acted alike," she said.
The couple hoped to Second Chance would take his namesake's place on the photo line, posing for pictures, but the young bull was not nearly as docile as his Chance, twice putting Fisher in the hospital.
On its first birthday, Chance threw Fisher up in the air and few years later gored him with his horns.
"We did everything we could to make Second Chance as similar as possible to Chance," Reddell said. "We wanted him to be the same, but there are no guarantees."
Second Chance died last year at age 8 of a stomach malady that vets do not believe was related to his being a clone. Fisher did not get Chance until he was 7 and has maintained that the even the docile steer may have been just as dangerous a youngster as his clone.
"We felt so blessed when Second Chance dropped in our laps," she said. "Even though he put Ralph in the hospital twice, he always came out OK. We never thought Second Chance would die."
"When he died the second time, it was just as bad as when he died the first time," she added. "It never occurred to us that we'd lose him again."