The Transportation Security Administration has sparked outrage from Alaska's two U.S. senators after canceling plans to recruit potential employees at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race because of complaints from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Sen. Mark Begich said in a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole that PETA has no understanding of the world's most famous sled dog race, which runs for 1,100-miles and commemorates a 1925 run by sled dogs to deliver lifesaving diphtheria serum. This year's race is scheduled to begin March 5, and some competitors could take more than two weeks to finish.
"The original life-safety mission of the run continues today as hundreds of volunteers work year-round to ensure the mushers and dogs are safe," Begich wrote. "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."
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski also said the dogs are closely monitored and well-cared for during the race, and she urged Pistole to reconsider the decision.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that TSA dropped the recruitment campaign this week after PETA representatives wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying the agency should "stick to keeping our airplanes and railroads safe."
TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee told the Post that the agency was looking to fill airport screener vacancies at 22 airports in Alaska. The recruitment effort at the race would have cost the agency about $85,000, but the plans were canceled "to ensure taxpayer dollars were being used wisely, focusing on our frontline security operations," she said.
TSA also defended its decision in a statement, saying officials often use geographically targeted recruitment to find new employees to work in local airports. However, the agency said it never intended the Iditarod effort to be viewed as sponsorship of the race.
The TSA's decision delighted PETA.
"The TSA made the right decision in ending its association with this cruel race, and we hope that the Iditarod's other sponsors will quickly follow suit," PETA Vice President Dapnha Nachminovitch said in a statement.
PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said in a letter to Begich Thursday that sponsorship of the Iditarod at a time when TSA's budget is being slashed would have been a gross misappropriation of funds. She added that at least 142 dogs have died since the Iditarod began, and 20 dogs have died since 2005.
"Their paws become bruised and bloodied and are cut by the ice, and many incur stress fractures or become sick with intestinal viruses," she wrote. "The dogs often die of hypothermia, pneumonia, gastric ulcers, and 'sled dog myopathy' -- literally being run to death."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.