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Copycat: Cedar Falls owner clones beloved feline

CEDAR FALLS – Hello, kitty.

Mr. Tufts Jr. is the color of ink, and his fur is as soft as a cloud. Large copper eyes are filled with curiosity — and more than a little mischief. His athletic legs are spring-loaded for leaping to the top of the china cabinet, fireplace mantel, stair railing and anywhere else he shouldn’t go, but does anyway because, well, he’s a cat.

At nearly nine months old and 8 ½ pounds, his owner describes Mr. Tufts Jr. as “a holy terror,” a four-legged adolescent “little beast” who has suddenly discovered his claws “that he uses to shred toilet paper all over the house.” But of course, there’s the cuddle factor – “he’s sweet and very affectionate.”

Mr. Tufts Jr. is the spitting image of his namesake, Mr. Tufts. That’s because junior is a clone.

The original Mr. Tufts was a copper-eyed, black semi-long-haired, silky cat with a small white “locket” at his throat, a plumed tail and tufts of fur behind his ears and between his toes.

“I had never had such a wonderful creature. It was harder losing him than any other cat I’ve ever had,” said the owner, a Cedar Falls retiree who wants to remain anonymous.

She was heartbroken when he died. But she had him cloned.

Dr. Kevin Christman of Cedar Valley Veterinary Center in Cedar Falls collected small living tissue samples from his patient, the original Mr. Tufts.

“We had to sedate him and take a little skin, fat and hair – tiny pieces of tissue, like taking a biopsy sample,” he said. It’s the first time in his 10 years as a vet that he’s done a procedure for cloning an animal. “Obviously, I’m science-minded, so it was very interesting and kind of cool. He was an awesome cat, so what better cat than Mr. Tufts?”

The tissue samples were sent to ViaGen Pets in Cedar Park, Texas, pet cloning and genetic preservation specialists. “The common bond with all our clients is the extreme love and connection to their pets. It’s such a special bond that the owner can’t imagine what it will be like without that pet,” said Melain Rodriguez, ViaGen client services manager.

ViaGen has cloned dogs, cats and horses, including the first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse for San Diego Zoo, which was born in August.

A cloned cat is a genetic twin of the original cat, Rodriguez said. No genetic modification takes place and the cloned cat shares many attributes of the original cat, including appearance, intelligence and temperament. It is no more susceptible to health issues than any other cat. Once received by ViaGen, tissue samples collected by the veterinarian are cultured, and then cultured cells are frozen and stored.

“These cells can be stored for many years. There is no expiration date. The Przewalski’s horse cells were frozen for 40 years before cloning,” explained Rodriguez, who owns a 2-year-old cloned Bengal cat.

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Christman received an information packet and followed ViaGen’s step-by-step instructions on what was needed for the process.

Although postmortem samples aren’t uncommon, Rodriguez said “it’s much better to have samples from living cells. We recommend pet owners let their vets know that they’re interested in cloning or want to clone their pet, so they can be proactive about getting a tissue sample, such as when the pet is under anesthesia for a dental cleaning or spay-neuter, to be prepared for when that time comes.”

When the Cedar Falls client was ready to clone Mr. Tufts, ViaGen Pets took one of the frozen cells to replace the nucleus of a female cat’s egg. Through a patented process, the egg and cell were joined together and an embryo started to grow. The embryo was then transferred to a surrogate mother cat, similar to in vitro fertilization in humans. After a normal pregnancy period, Mr. Tufts’ genetic twin was born. The nursing period was the same as for any kitten, said Rodriguez.

Each animal involved in the cloning process is under constant care by veterinarians and the ViaGen team to ensure comfort, health and well-being, she noted.

Mr. Tufts Jr. is the spitting image of her beloved original cat, the owner said.

“The only physical difference, as far as I can see, is in health and body condition. The original T had been found on a forest trail and had a very bad respiratory illness.”

She also adopted the surrogate cat, which she named Surri G Momcat.

Mr. Tufts Jr. was born Jan. 23. Rodriguez delivered Mr. Tufts Jr. and Momcat to the owner March 29 at the Cedar Rapids Airport. They rode in the cabin with her from Texas.

Both cats are in fine health and doing well. Christman is caring for the cats and a grateful owner named him godfather to Mr. Tufts Jr. “My furry godchild,” the vet said, laughing. “He’s a handsome cat, full of personality – and has tufts of fur in his ears like the original Mr. Tufts.”

Like his namesake, the young feline likes to head-butt greetings, then roll onto his side and stretch into an arch for a good belly rub. “Our new Mr. Tufts Jr. is much more athletic than our original, probably because he, and Momcat, too, had the best of care,” the owner explained. The original Mr. T was a rescue cat.

Cat cloning costs $35,000; dogs are $50,000.

“I could afford it. We don’t have any children. I don’t spend money on clothes or hair, I live frugally, and I drive a 31-year-old car. T Jr. is so beautiful — he’s gone from being a fluffy fur ball to a sleek, silky cat. I’m just so happy. I wanted to adopt Momcat, too, because I owe her a good life,” the owner explained.

Still, she feels the need to “make amends” for spending such a large sum on cloning her cat. She has underwritten the cost of several spay-neuter clinics for Cedar Valley Veterinary Center, is paying for her great-niece’s university education and has committed an amount equal to the cloning fee to Habitat for Humanity.

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Education
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UNI student appealing to President Nook after pro-life group's request denied

CEDAR FALLS — A student is appealing to the University of Northern Iowa president after her request to register a pro-life organization on campus was denied.

Sophomore Sophia Schuster went through the process to register UNI Students for Life, an affiliate of a national anti-abortion group. The proposal was voted down by Northern Iowa Student Government on Oct. 7, a decision that was upheld a week later by the student judiciary when Schuster appealed.

“There’s one more appeal, and that will go to the president of UNI, President (Mark) Nook,” she said.

“I’m working on that right now,” Schuster added during a Friday interview. “I’m just going to send it and hope for the best at this point.”

Organizations that register are allowed access to funding through the student government budget as well as campus promotional opportunities, according to information on UNI’s website.

A story in the Northern Iowan newspaper noted that during the Oct. 7 meeting some student government leaders objected to beliefs of the national Students for Life organization detailed on its website. Others argued students and campus organizations they belong to have a right to opinions student leadership doesn’t agree with. The Courier left a voice message at the student government office Friday afternoon, but did not reach anyone for comment.

After a hearing Wednesday, UNI’s eight-member student judiciary issued a ruling supporting the outcome of the vote.

An opinion signed by five of the student justices was based on two policies. One said NISG would “register any student organization formed in good faith for a lawful purpose.” The other outlined “the specific forms of legally prohibited harassment” at the university.

The ruling cited an argument by some student legislators that the group’s constitution is “vague, allowing for open interpretation” and “therefore lacking in evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization.” The opinion also said the group’s constitution and its ties to the national organization have “the potential to create a hostile environment on the University Campus.”

A dissent by three student justices took issue with those assertions.

“The majority opinion has predicted actions of the UNI Students for Life – sowing unrest on campus and depriving others of their rights – that go far beyond the logical scope of this case,” the dissenters wrote. On another point, it added, “UNI Students for Life has done nothing to justify the allegation of harassment.”

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Schuster’s registration request met the requirements laid out by a committee she worked with before the student government vote. So, she was initially surprised by the direction the discussion took.

“But I was absolutely floored by the (student) supreme court’s decision after we appealed it,” said Schuster. “The charge I brought against the senate was that they rejected us not based on any policies, but that they rejected us on personal beliefs.”

Student government officials admitted in presenting their case to the judiciary that they violated university policies in voting against the group’s registration, according to information in the dissenting opinion.

Schuster said “I think it’s one of the biggest misconceptions” that people who are pro-life “want to oppress women. ... Our whole purpose is to tell women that they’re strong and we love them,” she explained, and that they can choose to have their baby.

A news release from Students for Life noted legal counsel has been contacted on behalf of the UNI organization.



Collection of photos from UNI’s UNIty march

Collection of photos from UNI's UNIty march

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Cedar Valley law enforcement agencies lag in diversity

Daniel Banks didn’t set out to become a cop, let alone police chief of a small town. But the Waterloo East High graduate loves the profession.

He’s worked in Oelwein, Tripoli and Sumner, soaking in the small-town atmosphere, enjoying the ability to walk down the street and talk to people or shoot the breeze at a late-night bonfire. He’s sure he wouldn’t be able to do that if he worked in his hometown of Waterloo, a much larger city with many more calls for service.

“I believe I was made or built for small-town policing. I just have the personality for it,” Banks said.

But there are forces Banks, now chief of police in Hudson, can’t control.

Banks identifies as multiracial. He was raised in Waterloo by a Black father who worked for years at Deere and Co. and a white mother who worked and took care of Banks and his two older brothers. In 98%-white Hudson, he stands out.

“I go into these predominantly white communities — I’m 6-4, 300-some pounds — I come in, ‘Who’s this big Green Mile coming into our community trying to tell us what to do?’” Banks said. “Yeah, there are still some racist people. I’ve ran across them.”

Then there are the Black friends Banks grew up with who no longer talk to him or tell him he’s an Uncle Tom, a “sellout” who wears “the white man’s uniform.”

“I wish there were more minorities in this field, but nobody wants to deal with the harassment,” Banks said. “It’s like you’re betraying the Black community.”

With police brutality, higher rates of nonwhite incarceration and the killing of Black people by police across the U.S. amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement, it can seem as if modern-day policing pits the majority-white police forces against the minority populations they serve.

That dynamic, police chiefs and county sheriffs told The Courier, makes it difficult to recruit nonwhite officers and deputies. That’s reflected in the numbers on police departments and sheriff’s offices across Northeast Iowa.

“Tragic events over the last few years have certainly made it more difficult to recruit officers of color,” said Helen Haire, University of Northern Iowa police chief. The entire campus police force is white despite a campus that’s 20% nonwhite.

As in Hudson, Waterloo has its first-ever Black police chief, Joel Fitzgerald, heading the department. But while Waterloo’s population is around 16% Black, just four of the 119 police officers are Black — 3.4%.

Jeff Reinitz / JEFF REINITZ jeff.reinitz@wcfcourier.com 

New Waterloo Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald addresses a crowd in Lincoln Park on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Ninety-five percent of the officers are white, something Fitzgerald said he hopes to change.

“We have taken several approaches to improve diversity within our ranks and to help our members identify their own implicit biases, which should help to improve police community relationships,” Fitzgerald said.

That includes starting a new Police Explorer program for middle and high school students in Waterloo, which Fitzgerald said would serve “as a pipeline for early and positive contacts with our youth community.”

It’s important for kids to see adults who look like them in a profession they might want to enter someday, Banks said. But just as important is better training for white officers who may not have grown up around Black people.

“They wanna come in, their hands are on their gun, pointing their finger — that would piss me off too. Why is your hand on your gun?” Banks said. “(White officers are) going into these Black communities, and they don’t know how to talk ... The most powerful weapon we got is our mouth.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF CEDAR FALLS 

Berte

In Cedar Falls the police force is 93% white, which more closely mirrors the city’s 91.5% white population. Police Chief Craig Berte said his department has been working on becoming less majority-male.

“We have worked very hard for decades to have one of the highest percentages of female officers for a police department in Iowa,” Berte said, noting his department has had around 20% to 25% female officers “for nearly three decades.”

Recruiting anyone at all has become a problem for departments in recent years, including in Waverly, where the police force is 100% white in a 92.5% white city.

“We are having a difficult time attracting qualified applicants. That actually goes for all candidates applying,” said Waverly Police Chief Richard Pursell.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, whose deputies and jailers are 88% white in an 84.5% white county, said the current “stigma attached to law enforcement” is one of the biggest issues he faces with recruiting.

Thompson

“We simply must continue to prove that law enforcement is an honorable profession that must represent the communities they serve, and that comes with time and continued positive interaction,” Thompson said. “One misstep and/or one bad news story from states away only serves to undermine our continuing efforts to win favor and earn trust.”

That trust, said Banks, is earned — on both sides of the law — with respect and accountability.

“Instead of ‘defund the police,’ how about ‘fund the police’ to get more of us on the street in a positive light?” he said. “If we get out of our cars more and make some positive contacts, it will go a long ways.”


Local
Heartland police realize diversity is an issue, work to make changes

More than 80 percent of the law enforcement agencies in the Heartland don’t mirror the racial makeup of the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

However, those agencies say, police diversity is more complicated than just making census-based hires.

Reporters from Lee Enterprises-owned newspapers in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas took a deep dive into the numbers after civil unrest surrounding instances of police brutality put the issue in the spotlight.

The demographic makeup of more than 100 law enforcement agencies was compared with U.S. census data for those communities.

Among the findings: More than a dozen agencies were at least 20 percentage points less diverse than the communities they serve.

For example:

  • The 17-member force on the Lacy-Lakeview, Texas, police department is all white, even though the city’s population is more than 52% minority, including 26% Latino and 22% Black, according to U.S. Census figures.
  • The 19-member force on the Storm Lake, Iowa, police department has two Latino members, making the force 10.5% Latino. But the Storm Lake community is 37.8% Latino, according to Census data.
  • The 156-member Bryan, Texas, police force is 80% white even though the community is just 40% white.

Conversely, some agencies have managed to construct forces that are representative of the communities they serve:

  • The 43-member Sapulpa, Oklahoma, police department is 28% minority, while the Sapulpa community is 26% minority. The Sapulpa force has officers who are Native American, Latino, and Black.
  • The 26-member Hewitt, Texas, police department is 31% minority, while the Hewitt community is 29% minority.

In the past two decades, many officials say, they have worked to improve minority representation but are hampered by outside forces.

Chief among them: Money. Some smaller communities can’t compete with the salaries or quality of life opportunities offered in larger cities.

Then, there’s the matter of openings. When there are openings, those forces don’t have the resources to recruit beyond their region. In York, Nebraska, for example, local law enforcement competes with 40 or 50 other agencies in the state.

After those candidates apply, some may not be able to pass academic and background tests.

Recent attacks on law enforcement also have made the field less attractive. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, officials have found increased competition from the private sector. Minority candidates are more likely to head in that direction if they know the pay and the hours are going to be better and the risks are few.

Benefits

Many law enforcement officials said they see plenty of benefits in mirroring the demographics of a community. Officers can sometimes diffuse situations more quickly if citizens feel they’re represented on the police force.

To build for the future, departments have formed police academies, working with middle and high school students to see law enforcement as a potential career.

In North Platte, Nebraska, officers participate in a monthly “Coffee with a Cop.”

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In Sand Springs, Oklahoma, officials have waived the college requirement for those with military service, hoping to attract more minority candidates.

And, in Lincoln, Nebraska, assigning minority officers to minority neighborhoods helps show that law enforcement can be a viable career for anyone.

“Come be part of the solution,” says Col. John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Don’t throw stones from the sidelines.”

In Davenport, Iowa, Police Chief Paul Sikorski has worked with members of the local NAACP and the League of Latin American Citizens to improve relations.

“We are working very hard to build trust,” he says. “We don’t always hear the things we want to hear, but when you’re in a trusting, respectful atmosphere, those hard things to hear are a product of mutual respect.”