ExxonMobil, which operates Esso petrol stations in the UK, has been funding the controversial Alaskan dog-sledge race since 1978.
As part of PETA’s call for action, the foundation states that it is “disappointed that ExxonMobil continues to sponsor the Iditarod, despite knowing that dogs suffer when they’re forced to run through blinding snowstorms in sub-zero temperatures across gruelling Alaskan terrain.”
As well as being tied up on mushers’ properties, as a PETA US’s exposé states, dogs are forced to pull heavy sledges 1,000 miles through blizzards and sub-zero temperatures.
PETA US also notes that a company investigator who worked at two kennels owned by former Iditarod champions witnessed widespread neglect and suffering. Part of the claims include dogs being denied veterinary care, chained next to dilapidated boxes and plastic barrels in the cold, and being forced to run when they were exhausted and dehydrated, which has also resulted in dogs passing.
More than 220 dogs were pulled off the trail during the 2020 race due to exhaustion, illness, injury, or other causes.
PETA director Elisa Allen says: “ExxonMobil has the shameful distinction of being one of the last major companies still sponsoring the Iditarod’s cruelty to dogs.”
After the foundation pointed out that more than 150 dogs have died in the Iditarod since its start, other companies including Jack Daniel’s, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo, decided to stop sponsoring the event.
According to television and radio network Voice of America, the race’s popularity is declining, especially as major sponsors keep dropping out. For example, Alaska Airlines became the latest sponsor to announce it will stop its funding after this year’s race, following PETA protests outside its Seattle headquarters and meetings with representatives.
According to an Encyclopaedia Britannica article, the Iditarod has recently increased mandatory rest stops, the amount of dog food at race checkpoints, and the authority of race veterinarians and officials to protect dogs.
As part of a community engagement strategy, ExxonMobil has also extended its local sponsorship to create a school education programme IditaREAD, which promotes the Iditarod trail sledge dog race by providing educational opportunities for classrooms around the world.
ExxonMobil has been approached for comment and it is yet to respond.