Did Chance the Bull Get a Second Chance?
Posted by lisagbrown on May 20, 2009
The answer, of course, is no. Chance the bull did not get a second chance, but a recent This American Life documents how one family comes to believe that Chance has been reborn.
Chance was a very tame bull — unusually tame — to the point that Ralph and Sandra Fisher considered him a part of the family. They describe him as cuddly and loving — not unlike an extra large dog. Chance appeared in Hollywood films and on television; he was photographed with celebrities and children; he’s probably the most documented bull in history. And when he finally died after more than a decade with the family, everyone who knew Chance was devastated. But this isn’t only a story of people mourning a beloved animal, because the Fishers then proceed to do what many animal lovers fantasize about when their animals die — Ralph and Sandra clone Chance.
When Texas A & M University delivers the cloned calf to the Fishers, the couple become convinced that Chance has returned. They say he’s back; he’s been reincarnated; and they name the bull Second Chance. The scientists and vets try to explain to the Fishers that cloning does not work this way — that, at best, they should think of the new bull as Chance’s sibling. He might not look, act, or think like the originial bull. But the Fishers are so blinded by love and loss that they refuse to believe this. They point to behavioral similarities between Chance and Second Chance as evidence that there is a deeper connection between the bulls. And even after Second Chance gores Ralph so badly that he ends up in the hospital — twice — Ralph remains certain that they’ve gotten back “95% of Chance” in the form of the new bull.
I would guess that most people have thought of cloning a beloved dog or cat, but can’t afford it or come to realize that this would not bring their animal back. It is heartbreaking to hear the desperation in the Fisher’s voices — how fervently they want their Chance back, and how blind they are (particularly Ralph) to the fact that he has not returned. In fact, even after Second Chance dies, the family explains, “it never occured to us that by having the clone [of Chance], we would lose him twice.” In death, as in life, the second bull remains a ghost of the first.
It is hard to imagine how the Fishers become so misguided about Chance and Second Chance, and yet, for anyone who has deeply loved an animal, it’s not that hard. It is as if they never leave the ‘bargaining’ phase of the mourning process because they think they’ve won the bargain. Cloning has enabled them to negotiate their bull back to life, so the Fishers are never required to accept Chance’s death. And even though there are so many ways that that’s wrong, it’s hard to judge them for it.
There are other parts of this story that could be discussed (the danger of misundertanding wild animals, the ethics of using animals in entertainment, the ethical implications of cloning), but what is most prominent to me is how deeply the Fishers loved their Chance. Their love may have caused them to make some bad choices; it might have made it impossible for them to see Second Chance as a unique individual; it may have even made them completely irrational. But in some ways, there is no better way to honor Chance’s place in their family than to reflect on how desperately they tried to get him back.