▲ Gangsan, one of five clone dogs donated to the Jeju Police Special Forces Unit by disgraced stem cell researcher Hwan Woo Suk. Photo by Darryl Coote
On March 16, 2007, nine-year-old Yang Ji Seung was abducted on her way home from a private learning institute in Seogwipo City. What ensued was a nationwide manhunt for the girl and her abductor. The Jeju Police Department established an investigation team that canvassed the province, handing out flyers, knocking on doors and following leads. Local citizens, government employees and the Korean army took to the streets and combed through orange fields in search of the girl, but to no avail. In April of that year the National Police Agency announced the countries first AMBER Alert and all over Korea warnings were broadcasted, missing posters were displayed in subways, and billboards on highways and national roads read ‘Have you seen this girl?’ with her picture underneath.
A month after Yang’s disappearance and fearing the worst, the Jeju Police Department began training their best bomb sniffing dog, Quinn, a black German Sheppard, to find her body. To properly train a dog for this task it takes months, if not years before they are ready. “For 15 days we buried decomposing pork 15 centimeters under the ground and practiced,” said Kang Hyeun Cheol of the Jeju Police Special Forces Unit.
Forty days after Yang went missing, on April 25 Quinn was deployed and within 30 minutes her body was found wrapped in black plastic bags under a pile of debris in a barn roughly a 100 meters from her home. A 49-year-old suspect with an extensive criminal record was found living in the barn. He was questioned by police and admitted to the rape and murder of Yang.
Two years later, in August 2009, with the tragic events of Yang’s murder still haunting the province, the Captain of the JPSFU came up with the idea to clone Quinn. “He was best at detection,” Kang said, and was believed to have innate olfactory capabilities that other canines lacked.
Disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk and his Sooam Biotech Research Center agreed to the task. The JPSFU chose Sooam because “there are not many research centers which are willing to put forth their effort and money to clone the dogs,” Kang said. “They understood our situation and were willing to do their best to clone Quinn and they donated the dogs to us.”
According to Kang skin cells were retrieved from one of Quinn’s ears. Then the nucleus was removed from the somatic cell and implanted into an unfertilized egg. Electric shock was applied to encourage cell division and once reproduction was observed the fertilized egg was implanted into two host dogs. This process, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, was used in the creation of the first ever clone, Dolly the sheep, and two cloned black cows by Jeju National University Professor Park Se-pil.
Between January and February of this year, Su, Oreum, Iron, Gangsan and Baekdu were born. Currently the five clone pups reside at the JPSFU Campus near Goemul oreum.
During an exclusive interview with several members of the JPSFU, I was permitted to examine their facilities and was allowed to meet the five-year-old Quinn and his cloned brood.
Kang said that he expects the clone dogs to be ready for active field duty in November of next year. Due to the increase of official conventions on the island such as the ASEAN convention, the trilateral summit and the upcoming 2012 World Conservation Convention, it was deemed necessarily to increase Jeju’s bomb detection squad, which currently consists of 12 dogs. The dogs will also patrol the Jeju International Airport.
▲ Several members of the JSPF conversing before conducting bomb detection training on site with Quinn, the dog from which cells were taken to create the five puppies. Photo by Darryl Coote
When training dogs for this sort of purpose it is expected that not all the canines will make the grade. By cloning the best dog in the unit the JPSFU hopes that all five will have the same talents and capabilities as Quinn, though Kang said his ultimate goal for the puppies is not necessarily for them to become bomb sniffing dogs, but for them to live a long happy life.
Though, too young to begin extensive training, the pups spend their days playing, becoming familiar with their handlers, and being house broken. “For now, we’re just letting them grow,” Kang said.
It is easy to forget how young these dogs are, considering their size. Already an intimidating sight, the pups have large thick paws and are incredibly strong. One of them had broken the metal door of his cage that separated him from the training facility.
“Are they friendly?” I asked a member of the JPSFU as he attached a leash to Gangsan.
“No,” he said with a smile.
Quinn is the size of dog that fuels nightmares. Less energetic than his copies, his heft and thick black coat made him seem enormous. He easy weighed as much as a full grown person.
The interview took place for the most part in the training facility, which was a room lined with desks, dressers, computers and shelves stacked with luggage. Though training had finished hours before my arrival, Kang said, as he had several times throughout our conversation, that he wanted me to have a full picture of what occurred there.
One of the JPSFU members produced a container. Inside was what I was told was a bomb, though in actuality it was just an unknown explosive that I was told not to drop. I then placed the black sack, out of sight from the JPSFU members, in one of the dresser drawers. Then Quinn was brought in.
Like any dog out for a walk, Quinn, with his nose to the ground, sniffed every crevasse and surface that came into his path. When he came to the dresser I had planted the explosive in, he calmly sat down. This is how they notify their handler where the bomb is located. Quinn has been on over 80 missions and has never once found a bomb, which I was told is because the JPSFU does a superb job in preventing them from being planted. The only assignment that Quinn found what should not have been was Yang’s body. Hopefully, with the help of these five dogs other horrific instances can be prevented.
I was told that for the dogs this is a game, that they looked forward to training and are rewarded with balls and other toys for a job well done. Once finding the explosive Quinn was given a toy that he and his handler wrestled over. Quinn barked and jumped about the room trying to usurp the toy from his handler’s hands. My translator and I laughed as we tried to get out of the way of this massive dog who was interested in only the toy, and not by who may be standing in his vicinity. Watching the joyful and almost absurd scene of this large dog equaling the strength of his handler, I had nearly forgotten that only moments ago I had participated in a mock bomb scenario and was not simply playing a game with Quinn. It is hard to comprehend that so much responsibility, so much at stake has been converted into a game for these animals.
“I think they are amazing,” Kang said, as he petted one of the cloned dogs. “They are ambitions and very active. I’m keeping my eyes on them.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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