Iditarod Trail Committee calls PETA allegations 'hearsay' and 'deceptive'

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Iditarod Trail Committee is taking a strong stance against recent allegations by PETA against prominent Iditarod mushers.

The animal rights activist group has recently made claims that dogs at two Iditarod kennels, one run by 2011 Iditarod champion John Baker and race veteran Katherine Keith, and one run by three-time champion Mitch Seavey, are mistreated or denied veterinary care.

The information and videos PETA published are from what the group calls "PETA eyewitnesses," who worked at the respective kennels and shot photos and video, and recorded audio of conversations with the mushers.

Iditarod Trail Committee CEO Chas St. George said in an email that, "the information provided by PETA is nothing but hearsay compiled in a deceptive fashion to raise money for their cause."

St. George goes on to say that "the Iditarod Trail Committee’s Kennel Standards Agreement states that 'Mushers who enter the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race shall voluntarily comply with the Mush with Pride kennel standards and shall self-certify.' "

PETA sent a letter to the ITC, asking for an investigation into these claims, but St. George referenced ITC's Kennel Standards Agreement, which states "ITC will not independently inspect except for cause or reasonable suspicion.”

St. George's email ends with "the Iditarod Trail Committee takes these standards seriously and will continue to review its policies to protect the sled dog."

Keith, whose shared kennel with Baker is located in Kotzebue, told Channel 2 the allegations "sicken" her.

"I'm ready to take a stand against this," Keith said. "This is one step beyond what's acceptable. It's distorted and outright lying."

On her Facebook page, Keith said two dog handlers came to work in their kennel before losing their trust. "Two men within a year of themselves felt (it) appropriate to come stay in our kennel share meals with us, talk to our daughters, and share in the intimate details of daily kennel life. They lied, stole, committed fraud, and completely ripped away any fabric of trust I had left," she wrote. "These men use the 'handler' experience as an invite to simply terrorize us or to advance their personal agendas," Keith wrote in one post.

In other posts, Keith details the stories of specific dogs named in PETA's allegations, saying one handler's negligence injured one dog, and pointing out, "We live in Kotzebue where there is no veterinary care."

The back-and-forth allegations escalated when PETA sent Keith a letter demanding she retract her statements about one of the handlers in the Facebook posts. The agency called three of her statements "false and defamatory."

Mitch Seavey, a three-time race champion, and the only musher of the three who competed in this year's Iditarod, said he had no comment on the allegations.