Ahead of the Iditarod, PETA expands anti-sled dog campaign

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — People Mover buses are the latest medium People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA is using to spread its message in Alaska.

Banner ads appearing on People Mover buses can be seen around Anchorage depicting a tethered dog next to ad copy that reads "Iditarod: Chained, suffering, and dying dogs. End the race."

The advertisements hit the streets shortly after another PETA attempt to take root in Anchorage was denied.

On Jan. 31, the organization announced its intent to purchase a plaque in the new Mushing District in downtown Anchorage.

"That plaque has since been rejected and we've been refunded, but we still stand firm that if we're going to be memorializing the mushers who are killing these dogs, we should be memorializing the dogs that are actually dying in this race," PETA Animals in Entertainment campaign manager John Di Leonardo said.

Anchorage Fur Rendezvous leadership says that it rejected PETA's plaque because it doesn't want the event to be politicized.

"The Mushing District and Arch effort's goal is to be neutral, and not intended to be a platform for political, social, campaign or other agendas that may attempt to distract from this grass roots effort to enhance the tourist experience in this historic districts," Fur Rondy leadership said in a statement Wednesday.

While the failed plaque attempt and bus banner ads are visual representations that could be clearly seen by the public, Di Leonardo says the organization continues to work behind the scenes to urge race sponsors to drop their support. Last year, a number of large contributors, including Wells Fargo, dropped their sponsorship of the race.

"PETA has reached out to a litany of sponsors, including those sponsors who have dropped from the race, so yeah I would say that our efforts have been impactful," Di Leonardo said. "PETA's going to continue to do whatever we can to get these dogs out of the race and we're going to continue to urge sponsors to sever their ties with the race and end this prize money that is forcing these greedy mushers to kill these dogs."

Iditarod Trail Committee interim CEO Chas St. George says PETA's efforts don't resonate with most Alaskans.

"This is about the celebration of the culture. These races are events that go way beyond who wins," St. George said. "PETA's intent is to eradicate the culture. And it's not about a race, it's not about anything more than the fact their intent is to ensure that this culture no longer exists."

Several new rules are in place for this year's race that St. George says are the result of years of evolving animal management.

This year, mushers will be required to enlist in Mush with P.R.I.D.E., a kennel care program designed to set standard guidelines on humane treatment of sled dogs.

The size of sled dog teams will also be reduced from 16 to 14 dogs. St. George says there are also changes in protocol in the event of the death of a dog team member on the trail.

"The question in our community and in communities across the world right now is the question about what constitutes a working dog," St. George said. "And people often tend to forget sometimes, what constitutes a working dog is their genetic makeup, the performance based makeup. It's how they do what they do, and it's part of their lineage."

In 2018, a small group of supporters with PETA attended the ceremonial start of the Iditarod and the restart in Willow. Di Leonardo says the organization has plans to return to Alaska for this year's race.

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