James Symington will soon find out if you can clone a hero. This week he received five puppies, the clones of his late rescue dog, Trakr, who located the last survivor in the rubble following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York. The dogs were given to the Los Angeles-based Symington by biotech company BioArts International after he entered an essay contest in 2008 in which he explained why Trakr was worthy of cloning.
The retired Canadian police officer's first meeting with the German shepherd pups on June 14 was an emotional one, according to a statement released by BioArts International. "They're identical — down to the smallest detail," Symington said of the pups. "Few dogs are born with exceptional abilities — Trakr was one of those dogs. And if these puppies have the same attributes as Trakr, I plan on putting them in to search and rescue so they can help people the way Trakr did."
The cloning took place at Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea and the procedure was led by Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, who produced the world's first canine cloning in 2005. The process was an intricate one: Hwang's team replaced the genes in eggs from random dogs with genes harvested from Trakr. After stimulation, they grew into embryos and were then placed in surrogate mothers. The goal was to create one clone, CBS News reported, but five genetically identical puppies resulted from the surrogate pregnancies. The first of the pups was born on Dec. 8 of last year and the last arrived on April 4.
Sadly, Trakr died just two months ago at age 16. But his legacy will live on through his precious pups. Rick Cushman, one of the search-and-rescue volunteers who witnessed Trakr's discovery of Genelle Guzman, the fifth and final survivor found in the rubble on Sept. 12, 2001, was happy to hear that the hero dog had been cloned.
"If Trakr hadn't picked up her scent, we might not have known she was there," he said in a statement. "They helped save her life."