From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
Two of the most aggressive Iditarod critics say two consecutive years without a sled dog death in the event hasn’t cooled their objections to the race.
“We are certainly reaching out to the sponsors of the Iditarod and asking them to pull their sponsorships. We are also actively asking our members to contact the sponsors,” said Gemma Vaughan of the cruelty investigations department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
In Florida, the founder and group called the Sled Dog Action Coalition said she is writing schools in hopes of convincing educators to stop using the race as a teaching tool.
The continued protests come as no surprise, said Iditarod executive director Stan Hooley.
“Some of these groups, at their most extreme, aren’t satisfied with the fact that no dogs have died in this race,” he said. “Some of them won’t be satisfied until we as human beings don’t own pets.”
The race to Nome gets underway on Saturday, March 3 with the ceremonial start in Anchorage. Teams hit the trail for real with the restart in Willow on March 4.
The debate has hardly budged over the years. Critics argue the race is cruel to dogs, who are forced to race through pain and sickness whether they like it or not. Iditarod mushers and supporters say that’s ridiculous – that the dogs love to run and receive world class preventative and emergency care.
In 2011, the national Transportation Security Administration publicly distanced itself from the event in the wake of PETA complaints, although race officials said the agency had already given Iditarod $75,000.
“The volume of emails and the amount of robotically generated, cut-and-paste stuff continues to choke a lot of our sponsors email boxes,” Hooley said.
The four principal Iditarod sponsors, those contributing $250,000 or more, are the same this year as in 2011: ExxonMobil, GCI, Donlin Gold and Anchorage Chrysler Dodge. (The Anchorage Daily News is among 25 businesses, organizations and governments that sponsor the race to a lesser degree, according to the Iditarod website.)
“It’s just the sign of spring that you get these complaint letters from the lower 48,” said GCI spokesman David Morris. Virtually all come from outside Alaska, he said. Virtually all are form letters.
At Anchorage Chrysler Dodge, general sales manager Corey Meyers handles the protest emails, which he said numbered maybe 80 last year. They were largely “cookie cutter” messages, he said.
“They read what PETA says and they believe it, and they forward it on to us, and they really don’t even know about the treatment of the dogs,” Meyers said.
As of late last week, however, Meyers hadn’t received any emails. It may be too early, he said.
A spokesman for ExxonMobil declined to comment when asked if the company had noticed more or fewer protest messages in recent years.
Marjorie Glickman, of the Sled Dog Action Coalition, said she has never watched the Iditarod first-hand. Vaughan declined to say if PETA sends observers to the Iditarod. Her agency also views the event as innately inhumane and will continue protesting until it no
longer exists, she said.
That’s one thing she and Hooley agree on. The Iditarod's executive
director said he expects the protests “to go on forever.”