ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The world’s most famous sled dog race has gained a major sponsor, weeks after a national bank dropped its longtime sponsorship amid pressure from animal rights groups campaigning against the Iditarod.
Anchorage-based Northrim Bank’s entry in Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was announced Friday. It was hailed by Iditarod officials, who said the new partnership will provide support needed to run the nearly 1,000-mile (1609-kilometer) annual race.
The announcement fills a sponsorship void for the Iditarod after Wells Fargo pulled its support in May.
Race officials blamed animal rights groups like PETA for pressuring corporate backers outside Alaska by implying the Iditarod condones cruel treatment of the dogs. Wells Fargo declined to discuss specific reasons for the San Francisco-based bank dropping the sponsorship.
Northrim dismissed any concerns about being associated with the race.
“We are proud to be Alaskans, and we see this as a great community engagement opportunity for the bank and for the Iditarod race,” spokeswoman Kari Skinner said.
“The continued growth and success of the Iditarod depends on companies like Northrim and others who recognize the opportunity and importance of not only preserving but enhancing this rich Alaskan tradition,” Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley said in a statement.
Both Iditarod and Northrim officials declined to disclose the dollar amount of Northrim’s support. But it’s significant enough for the bank to earn a spot as a “Lead Dog” sponsor, the second-highest tier among four sponsorship levels. Northrim also won the designation as the Iditarod’s official bank, a title once held by Wells Fargo.
PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has said it alerted Wells Fargo that five dogs connected to this year’s race died, bringing the total dog deaths to more than 150 in the Iditarod’s history. That number is disputed by race officials, who say there are no records of dog deaths during the early years of the race, and an accurate count is not available.
PETA spokeswoman Stephanie Shaw said thousands of PETA supporters opposed to the race have written to other Iditarod sponsors and Northrim can expect it will hear from the public as well. PETA also plans to reach out to the bank about a race it calls “so dangerous” that as many as half the dogs running it don’t finish it.
“Northrim would be wise to run far away from this deadly event,” Shaw said.
Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro