ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Airlines confirmed Monday it will drop its sponsorship of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Alaska’s most famous sporting event.
The Seattle-based airline, which got its start in Alaska decades ago, said in a statement that the decision to end sponsorship after this year's race was made as the company transitions to a new corporate giving strategy.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the most vocal critic of the thousand-mile (1,609-kilometer) sled dog race across Alaska, praised the decision.
"When dogs used in the Iditarod aren't being forced to run until their paws bleed and their bodies break down, they're chained alone in the bitter cold," PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement. "PETA and every kind person opposed to cruelty to dogs is flying high over Alaska Airlines' decision to stop sponsoring the Iditarod."
Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
PETA has pressured race sponsors for years and taken credit for companies like Wells Fargo and Jack Daniels from dropping financial support of the race.
PETA officials have also said they met with airline representatives and conducted protests outside Alaska Airlines’ headquarters.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson said in an email that “PETA did not play a role in our decision."
“We have been proud of our history and support of the Iditarod, especially travel for the veterinarians that are focused on the safety and health of the dog teams,” Thompson said.
Donors that give to the race are listed by the Iditarod on its webpage in four different tiers, based on how much they give.
The airline appeared three years ago on the Iditarod’s sponsorship page as a second tier donor, went to third tier in 2018 and was not listed last year or this year.
“We have been part of the Iditarod for more than 40 years and are proud of our sponsorship, which was focused on dog health and safety,” the Alaska Airlines statement said. “
The statement added that the airline's new corporate giving strategy will have “an emphasis on creating opportunities for young people in the communities where we fly."
Thompson said the Iditarod was told last year about the company's decision and that it is continuing its sponsorship through the 2020 race, giving the race’s parent organization, the Iditarod Trail Committee, time to find new sponsors.
The Iditarod has its ceremonial start on Saturday in downtown Anchorage. The race starts Sunday about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Anchorage, with the winner expected to arrive about 10 days later in the old Gold Rush town of Nome, on the Bering Sea coast.