By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 11:08 PM
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 the 1,150-mile race March 5 and are expected to complete the race in 10 to 17 days, according to organizers.
The event draws thousands of fans along the route, and its principal sponsors, including Exxon Mobil, pay $250,000 to fund race operations, according to news reports. Lower-tier sponsors pay $100,000.
In a letter sent this week to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the TSA should "stick to keeping our airplanes and railroads safe."
"Forcing dogs to run more than a thousand miles in subzero temperatures is cruel," the letter said.
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's inquiry.
TSA had planned to recruit potential job seekers in the hope of filling 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.
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."