Dolly the sheep, we hardly knew ya

Animal lovers, science lovers, activists, family and friends,

We gather today to celebrate the life of Dolly the Sheep, who was put to death Friday after a brief struggle with a rare form of lung cancer. As far as we know, Dolly, who was named after country western superstar Dolly Parton, did not suffer in her final days.

However, scientists in her hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland, agree had they not intervened, her death would have been slow and painful.

Dolly was conceived in 1996 in a test tube at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. Her birth, in 1997, opened doors for scientists the globe over, as humans began to realize their ability to control life. Her birth led to the cloning of mice and other mammals. It also gave scientists keen insights into human cloning. Her death this past week reaffirmed that humans not only have the power to control life, but death as well.

One scientist, who noted Dolly’s sense of humor, found irony in her death.

“We created life and we can take it away,” she said. “It’s funny, in a way … I think Dolly would appreciate it.”

From a young age, Dolly seemed to know she was special. Like her namesake, the world’s first clone from a mammal was often in the spotlight. Upon learning of her death, one photographer recalled how photogenic she was.

“That Dolly was some sheep,” Photo Joe said in a telephone interview from Mongolia, where he was on assignment for National Geographic magazine. “As soon as she saw me coming, Dolly would run over, prop her little feet up on the fence and smile. Sometimes she danced. But it was her smile that always got me. I’ll never forget her.

“Yes, she was some sheep.”

Another photographer recalled the sheep’s appetite, not for attention, but for food.

“She was a pig,” the photographer, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Don’t get me wrong, she was a handsome pig. But a pig nonetheless.”

Whether Dolly’s affection for food contributed to her demise is still unknown. Scientists say it is likely she would have contracted the disease either way, since many animals, cloned or otherwise, have been afflicted.

At a memorial site erected in Edinburgh, well-wishers have brought cards, flowers, posters and prayers. One sign reads, “We’ll never forget you, D.” Another, “You’ll go down in history, Dolly.”

And she will. Regardless of the way she died, Dolly the Sheep will be remembered for her candor, humor and political leanings. A proponent of cloning for the purposes of scientific research, Dolly often voiced her concerns about the future of cloning. She considered herself a martyr to science, a role she welcomed but did not encourage for others.

She was also an advocate for euthanasia. After seeing a fellow sheep die mercilessly in 1998 at the hands of Mother Nature, she came to believe that all animals have the right to choose death.

Today, let us celebrate her conviction. And let us keep Dolly’s dreams alive.