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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 02/16/2011

TSA drops Iditarod recruitment plans after PETA complains

By Ed O'Keefe

TSA won't be recruiting at this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Racem (Photo by AP)

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.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 16, 2011; 2:15 PM ET
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Wait a second, I thought these dogs loved running and they are also conditioned to work in these extreme conditions. PETA needs to concern itself with more extreme forms of animal abuse such as snake skin harvesting in Asia. But I guess one animal injustice is a threat to animal justice everywhere.

Regardless, TSA needs to put its financial resources into more productive avenues if it wants to hire more people in Alaska. I'm sure advertising job openings in local newspapers and media, as well as local job sites, would cost much less than sponsoring a dog sled race and be more productive. It's little things like this that will shrink the federal budget and save taxpayers money. Note to government - think outside of the box!

Posted by: AnthonyR1978 | February 16, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

PETA hates anything and everything, EXCEPT what they do. Let's see PETA members pulling those sleds.

Posted by: gmclain | February 16, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

lol PETA. These jokers over 80% of their "rescued" animals in their shelters, and they want to lecture others about animal rights.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 16, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

TSA seems to have more then enough idiototards.

Posted by: schmidt1 | February 16, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

@AnthonyR1978 wrote:
"Wait a second, I thought these dogs loved running and they are also conditioned to work in these extreme conditions."
Yes and yes. However, they wouldn't do this of their own accord by any stretch. They are pushed well past anything remotely reasonable during the course of this race. Dogs can and do die during the races.
No self respecting dog musher would do this level of stress and risk outside of this race. It's too dangerous to push yourself and your dogs so far past their limits.
The race comes from a literal life or death situation; that doesn't mean we need to recreate a new one every year to commemorate it.
Fortunately global warming will stop this race before too long. You can't do this race over swamp ;-)

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 16, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse

You go PETA. Too many people don't know the behind-the-scenes that goes on with animal exploitation. I'm thankful we have you. These dogs are used to make money for the owners and nothing else as evidenced just a few weeks ago when a story broke about a man who shot and buried approx 100 of his sled dogs, many of them still alive because his race was no longer sponsored, therefore he had no need for them. Keep up the good work PETA!

Posted by: dkidd2 | February 16, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Given that the race is in lily-white Alaska, wouldn't recruitment there also be racist?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 16, 2011 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Napolitano is Obama's sled dog.
Glad Peta slapped the dog down.

Posted by: dottydo | February 16, 2011 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Mushers ought to leave their dogs at home and hitch the PETA leadership to their sleds.

Posted by: logicprevails | February 16, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Let's hope the TSA really ended its Iditarod sponsorship. At 8:12 p.m. EST on February 16th, it was still listed as a sponsor on the Iditarod's website:

Thanks to an action alert sent by the Sled Dog Action Coalition, thousands of animal lovers bombarded the TSA with emails protesting its involvement. If the TSA dropped out, they deserve the credit.


Posted by: SledDogAction | February 16, 2011 8:37 PM | Report abuse

PETA, give me a break.

Posted by: GBED989 | February 16, 2011 10:52 PM | Report abuse

PETA is a bunch of whackadoodles who think that it's cruel to have a pet. They'd sooner see feral dogs running amock without help from the humans that altered their genetic makeup to be what they are today.

The huskies that run the Iditarod in Alaska were bread to pull and mush. That's their job, and they enjoy doing it.

Which is crueler? To keep a dog gainfully employeed, fed and happy? Or to put the dog out on the street without any healthcare and no job to perform?

PETA--get real.

P.S. Cows taste great.

Posted by: trambusto | February 17, 2011 8:45 AM | Report abuse

"Which is crueler? To keep a dog gainfully employeed, fed and happy? Or to put the dog out on the street without any healthcare and no job to perform?"

What a poor argument and a lame, forced choice. How about keeping your pets safe (including not forcing them to run in a dangerous situation), fed and happy? It beats the two choices you have listed there.

How do you know that the dogs enjoy pulling sleds? Have you asked them? I'm sure when one is dying on the course, it might not be so happy that it was out in the snow pulling a sled.

Your last comment just shows your lack of caring about animals and your immature attitude, and negates anything else you said (which wasn't very well thought out in the first place.)

Posted by: Rita13 | February 17, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The stupid humans should be pulling the dogs in the IDIOTROD. It is very cruel to the dogs.

Posted by: pidgysgirl | February 20, 2011 9:52 PM | Report abuse

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