Cloned Puppies: A New Generation of 'Trakrs'

Puppies cloned from 9/11 search and rescue dog go home to their owner.

June 18, 2009, 11:49 AM

June 18, 2009— -- They may look like typical, playful puppies, but James Symington's German shepherds have a lot more to live up to than learning to sit.

Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy and Deja Vu are clones, created from the DNA of a 9/11 search and rescue dog named Trakr who was credited with pulling the last survivor out of the rubble on Sept. 12, 2001.

"They're calm," Symington told "They're very zen."

And they're also starting to show similar personality traits to the police dog who was by Symington's side for 14 years, including intelligence and an "extreme amount of confidence."

The puppies, born over four months using Trakr's DNA and surrogate dams, were the result of an essay Symington entered as part of a contest held by BioArts International to find the "most clone-worthy dog," according to BioArts CEO Lou Hawthorne.

Hawthorne told that the Golden Clone Giveaway garnered hundreds of entries, many of them deserving and touching.

"Trakr was just so far beyond any of them," he said. He was a clear winner."

Symington, a retired Canadian police officer, thought so too. That's why he had banked Trakr's DNA several years ago on the advice of a veterinarian even though cloning wasn't even a possibility back then.

Symington said he heard about the Golden Clone Giveaway when he visited the BioArts Web site after watching Hawthorne speak about dog cloning on television.

BioArts is the same company that garnered national media attention earlier this year for cloning a Florida couple's yellow Labrador retriever for $155,000.

The company will soon be able to offer cloning for any dog owner for about $136,000 through its new subsidiary Encore Pet Sciences.

But the fee for Symington's puppies was waived, Hawthorne said, by both BioArts and the vendor the company uses for the actual cloning.

Making Little Trakrs

Hawthorne said a fresh DNA sample was taken for the Trakr project and the puppies were cloned by BioArt's Korea-based vendor Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

The contest was originally supposed to produce just one dog, Hawthorne said. But Trustt, born in December, was such a success, they went for another "batch." Solace, Valor and Prodigy were born in late March and Deja Vu followed in early April.

Their only regrets, Hawthorne said, is that Trakr never lived to meet his clones. He died April 26 at the age of 16 before Symington received the puppies.

Symington first met Trakr in 1995 when he was working for the Halifax Regional Police. Imported from the Czech Republic, Trakr helped locate more than 100 people and millions of dollars in good, he said.

Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, the two headed to New York shortly after the towers fell knowing that most of the U.S.'s FEMA teams were stranded without flights.

With the roads to New York nearly empty, they drove for about 14 hours, arriving in the early hours of Sept. 12. Only five survivors were found that day. The last one, Genelle Guzman-McMillan, was found by Trakr.

Symington and Trakr stayed at Ground Zero until that Friday when Trakr collapsed from exhaustion. He had helped locate the remains of several victims. That would be the last call of duty for both of them.

In his later years, Trakr who had moved with Symington out to Los Angeles, started suffering from neurological problems with symptoms similar to those suffered by human 9/11 rescue workers.

He was paralyzed on his hind end for the last two years of his life and relied on Symington and his wife to carry him.

"For us," he said, "it was an honor."

Honoring a Hero

Now the couple delight in the similarities between their beloved Trakr and their new puppies.

"Every single one of them has the same markings," he said.

Once the puppies are old enough, Symington said, they will be evaluated for entry into a similar search and rescue program as a tribute to their predecessor.

Bioethicist Dr. Michael Grodin, a physician and professor and director of medical ethics at Boston University, told that he doesn't have any ethical concerns about cloning programs for dogs, though it's perhaps "a waste of time, money and expense."

"I think it's a sideshow," he said.

While the dogs are genetically the same as their predecessors, Grodin said it's unrealistic to pin the same hopes on a cloned dog. He likened it to identical twins that, despite looking the same, can have very different characteristics.

"They have a right to their personalities," Grodin said. "That goes for animals and humans, if it ever happens."

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