TSA drops Iditarod recruitment plans after PETA complains
Updated 8:12 p.m. ET
The Transportation Security Administration is canceling plans to recruit new workers at this year's Iditarod dog race in Alaska after complaints from animal rights activists prompted a media inquiry.
Mushers and their teams of 12 to 16 dogs begin racing along 1,150 miles of Alaska on March 5, and should complete the race in 10 to 17 days, according to race organizers.
The event draws thousands of fans along the route and its principal sponsors, including ExxonMobil, pay $250,000 to fund race operations, according to local news reports. Lower tier sponsors are set to pay $100,000. The agency is listed as a sponsor on the race Web site.
In a letter sent this week to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, representatives with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) complained that TSA should "stick to keeping our airplanes and railroads safe."
"The Iditarod is a long, grueling race," PETA wrote. "Typically, dogs are forced to run for many hours with little rest. Their feet become bruised and bloodied, cut by ice, and just plain worn out from the tremendous distances they are forced to cover."
"Forcing dogs to run more than a thousand miles in subzero temperatures is cruel," the letter concluded.
A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post, which then asked TSA for a clarification of the sponsorship deal.
Kristin Lee, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency "immediately took action to ensure taxpayer dollars were being used wisely, focusing on our frontline security operations" after The Post inquired about the sponsorship plans.
TSA had planned to recruit potential job seekers as it tries to fill airport screener vacancies at 22 Alaskan airports, according to Lee.
PETA initially pegged the sponsorship deal at $100,000, but TSA's recruitment plans, similar to those used to promote the 2010 Census, would have cost the agency about $85,000, Lee said.
"We focus on geographically-targeted recruitment to help us enlist employees to work in local airports," Lee said in a statement. "However, this particular recruitment effort has been canceled because TSA never intended to have the appearance of sponsorship. We will take steps to discontinue this particular initiative and recoup associated costs."
PETA leaders cheered the agency's quick decision.
"We are howling with delight," PETA founder, Ingrid Newkirk, said in an interview.
"There are so many ways to create jobs and exploiting dogs is not one of them," she said. "Aligning themselves with the Iditarod, I think they taint themselves, because it's cruel and a lousy endeavor."
PETA, which counts more than 2 million members, focuses primarily on the treatment of animals by farms, clothing companies, laboratories and the entertainment industry. It regularly uses public protests and boycotts to raise awareness of its concerns.
Iditarod officials did not immediately return requests for comment. (We will add any statements if they reply.)
Iditarod racing dogs undergo "some of the most intensive health checkups in the animal athletic world," according to the race Web site. Mandatory blood and heart-rate tests begin in February and veterinarians continue tracking each dog with a microchip implant.
Dogs must also have a physical exam two weeks before the race starts and are de-wormed 10 days before it begins, according to race organizers.
A study by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and cited by PETA in its letter to Napolitano concluded however that Iditarod racing dogs often die from hypothermia, pneumonia, accidents, gastric ulcers or beatings. Eighty-one percent of the dogs who finish the race have lung damage, the report said.
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| February 16, 2011; 2:15 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments
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