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Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Alaska senator, race director, blast TSA's Iditarod decision

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 3:10 p.m. ET
Alaska's junior senator thinks it's a doggone shame that the Transportation Security Administration decided to withdraw a partnership deal with the annual Iditarod dog race. The folks who organize the race aren't happy, either.

As the Federal Eye reported yesterday, the agency canceled an $85,000 plan to recruit job seekers along the race trail after The Washington Post asked for a clarification of the arrangement.

Complaints by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals prompted the inquiry. The group complained this week to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the agency shouldn't be sponsoring a race it considers "cruel" to race dogs.

In response to the decision Thursday morning, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said it was "outrageous" that TSA would withdraw its support based on PETA's concerns.

"PETA's tales of abuse on the Iditarod Trail would be news to the scores of volunteer veterinarians whose monitoring of the sled dogs during the race make Iditarod dogs among the best cared for in the world," Begich wrote to TSA Administrator John Pistole.

"TSA does face recruitment challenges in Alaska," he said. "Since the Iditarod is closely followed by Alaskans along the 1,150-mile race and in every corner of our state throughout the month of March, it is a great opportunity to reach rural Alaskans about job opportunities at TSA."

Stan Hooley, the Iditarod's executive director, said PETA is as "at the very bottom in terms of credibility and integrity" among animal rights groups.

"We challenge anyone, with an open mind, to travel to Alaska, observe the race and then render an opinion as to what this incredible lifestyle and event are all about," Hooley said in an e-mail. "Until someone does so, the drivel really means nothing. The bottom line is this. We cannot change PETAs' mind about the true treatment of sled dogs in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, nor do we intend to attempt to do so. Our efforts remain focused on continuing to assure that all sled dogs involved in the Iditarod receive the absolute best in care and treatment."

PETA said Wednesday it was "howling with delight" over TSA's decision.

Begich, picking up on the quote, told Pistole on Thursday, "Your decision may have PETA 'howling with delight,' but Alaskans know you have headed down the wrong trail."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 17, 2011; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Congress  
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Many Alaskans oppose the Iditarod. They'll be disappointed to learn that Begich is upset that the TSA pulled its sponsorship. PETA wrote to Napolitano, but they weren't the only ones involved in the protest against the TSA. The Sled Dog Action Coalition sent out an alert asking people to send protest emails to Homeland Security. Alaskans and people in the lower 48 complained.


Posted by: SledDogAction | February 17, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Animal Legal Defense Fund also sent an action alert to their members to contact the sponsors, including TSA, of this horribly cruel race to stop their support of it.

The dogs love to run,--they’re anxious to get off the short chain they’ve been on all day and night. The dogs are excited and pumped at the start of the race, but, according to the official Iditarod website, about half the dogs don’t make it to the finish line. They can’t hack it,--it’s too long and arduous. They are pushed to exhaustion, suffering illness, injury or death.

Dogs die almost every year in the Iditarod,--6 in 2009, bringing the total known to 142. How can mushers accept dogs dying as a trade-off for the glory of completing the Iditarod or Yukon Quest? This is totally unacceptable and these killer races should end.

Posted by: LucyShelton | February 17, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Hello Tea Partiers! Read up, the TSA canceled plans to spend $85000 (saved the government money!!!) for an effort to recruit job seekers (so they won't be hiring more federal workers!!!)

Have we heard from the conservatives yet, thanking PETA for helping them advance conservative objectives?

Posted by: trichobezoar | February 17, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Despite Begich's rhetoric, it is an indisputable fact that this race kills dogs nearly every year: an average of 3-4 dogs per race, according to the Iditarod's own records.

This should be an unacceptable price to pay for this pointless race.

Posted by: DogFather | February 17, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Thanks largely to the efforts of the late Senator Stevens, Alaska is still one of the largest recipients of Federal dollars, per capita. Add the oil tax and pipeline income to that and $85,000 is meaningless in Alaska. Ask BP to make up the difference. The effectiveness of the TSA recruiting effort sounded dubious given the 1,150 mi. length of this outdoor event.

Posted by: thw2001 | February 17, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I suggest that anyone who thinks the dogs don't want to run should come to Alaska and take a sled dog ride. My experience is that the only dogs that are howling are the ones who didn't get hitched to the sled. As to dog deaths, I seriously doubt that sled dogs suffer early death any more often than the general domestic dog population. As to the statement that Alaskans oppose the Iditarod, in my ten years of living in Alaska, I have yet to hear the first Alaskan complain. This is just another case of an organization (PETA) using the general population's ignorance of Alaska to raise money for some imaginary problem. Personally, I plan to be at the start of the Iditarod. It is a great experience for people and dogs!

Posted by: BillfromAlaska | February 17, 2011 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Seems like PETA wants bad things to happen so they can fill their collection bins. If they cared about these dogs, they'd work to make things better, not take money away from areas that keep the race improvements moving forward. I say, shame on PETA. As a matter of fact, every time I see PETA doing this, I'm going to make donations to dog sled races. Let's review a few misconceptions. MOST Alaskans support sled dog racing. AND as far as I'm concerned, Homeland security ought to take a look at the radical actions of PETA. 50% of the sled dogs finish the race and those that don't, the high majority of them are 100% healthy, it's called strategy. Sled dog races DO NOT SUPPORT ABUSE and sled dog racing isn't abusive. Who is abusive? PETA---

Posted by: Robert777 | February 17, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Here is the link to the Animal Legal Defense Fund's action alert:

Please take action for sled dogs. Sponsorship is the biggest source of revenue for the race; contact the Iditarod’s corporate sponsors and request that they no longer fund this deadly and horrific event.

Posted by: mbackus1 | February 17, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

While I am not a passionate dog lover, I believe that dogs are considered to be happier when they have jobs to do. Alaskan sled dogs not only have jobs, they love their jobs. Last week I observed a sled dog team take off for a run pulling three tourists and their musher. They were straining at their harnesses and raring to go. Judging from their facial expressions, they were happy dogs.

I suspect PETA would be happier if they were all house pets, but I doubt if the dogs would be happier. If you watch films of the Iditarod, the dogs are wearing coats and booties. The dogs I saw were well cared for and full of gumption. They were doing what they have been bred for over centuries.

I think PETA should focus on factory farming and give the Iditarod a pass. They may not agree that animals should be allowed to fulfill their inbred purpose, but of the totality of evils that animals undergo in the world, the Iditarod surely ranks pretty low on the scale of suffering.

Posted by: carolyn4driving1 | February 17, 2011 7:46 PM | Report abuse

This is ironic. If TSA treated passengers half as well as these owners treat the sled dogs they wouldn't be the most reviled agency in US history.

Napolitano is a train wreck. Every time she opens her mouth something incredibly stupid seems to come out.

Can anyone recall anything that she has said that hasn't been either an outright lie, which covers most of her statements, or so clueless that it is bewildering.

The WH should glue her lips together before she speaks again.

Posted by: fisher1949 | February 17, 2011 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Most comments about poor treatment of sled dogs is through ignorance. I have done enough dog sledding to appreciate these wonderful dogs. They love to run and love to be in harness. They reciprocate affection given to them. I have worked at the finish line of the Iditarod. These dogs are treated better than many children. To watch the mushers handling their dogs is a real treat. We should all speak from direct experience using more than one limited contact.You haven't seen happiness until you have seen a sled dog being approached by a musher with the dog's harness in his/her hand.Closed minds seem to be the real problem.

Posted by: jheins57 | February 17, 2011 10:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't know enough about Iditarod to comment intelligently, so I'll just say, out of ignorance, that the dogs are working dogs and that it is my understanding that about the LAST thing that working dogs want is not to be working. (Sort of like the vast number of people who are not Republicans in that regard, although, contrary to what Republicans seem to think about OTHER people, probably not that many people want to be worked to death.)

The Tea Totalitarians should be pretty happy, though. There's $85K of taxpayer money saved that can go to help cover the health insurance that they want for themselves but don't want for anybody else.

Posted by: edallan | February 17, 2011 11:17 PM | Report abuse

peta\the people that are cruel to animals just to prove people are cruel to animals. it has been documented over and over. The funny thing is they document themselves doing it.
Working dogs actually LIKE working.

Posted by: kev4 | February 17, 2011 11:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a Peta member and I am not particularly active in animal rights issues, but I agree that this dog race is unusually cruel to dogs. I just don't get it. The human involvement is just driving a sled through the snow in the middle of winter, while the animals are run to the point of exhaustion.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | February 18, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

PETA, a bunch of wackos who thought that going to dog shows and releasing them to run free (into local traffic, for instance) was a good idea. That the Democrats must consider these clowns to be part of their base is just another reason why their phone calls for donations are falling on my deaf ears.

Posted by: seahawkdad | February 18, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I spend a lot of time every year before the Iditarod takes place writing comments replying to PETA's and the sled dog coalition's misguided, "purple prose" rants about the race. I'm so sorry that the TSA took the stance it did. I'm even sorrier that Janet Napolitano responded to PETA the way she did.

On the other hand, I applaud Mark Begich for what he wrote. Maybe the TSA will pay attention to him. I hope so. What I wish Napolitano and Pistole would do is read Mitch Seavey's book (Title: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way). They might understand something about sled dogs this way. There are lots of good books about sled dogs and the Iditarod: Gary Paulson, Lance Mackey, and many others come to mind.

The Iditarod isn't "cruel." To deprive huskies the chance to run would be "cruel." The problem is that PETA and the sled dog coalition people don't know what they are talking about, and they never seem to try to find out. Stan Hooley is right: PETA and the sled dog coalition are "at the very bottom in terms of credibility and integrity."

I just hope that people in Washington (including the Washington Post) pay attention to Begich and Hooley.

Posted by: dwilliams2 | February 18, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

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