HAMPTON, N.H., April 21 -- Timberland Co. said Thursday it will withdraw its sponsorship from the 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race if the Alaska race is not changed to allow more rest for the dogs.
The New Hampshire bootmaker said it based its decision on new findings by the Humane Society of the United States, which show the dogs should run at a slower pace and have more time to rest in the Nome to Anchorage race.
About 1,000 dogs participate in the race each year. One dog died in last March's race and six died in 1993, mostly because of severe weather, said Stan Hooley, the race's executive director.
Timberland said it has worked with the Humane Society and the Iditarod Trade Committee over the past year to evaluate the race and implement new safeguards to protect the dogs.
The race, which takes about two weeks, currently includes one mandatory 24-hour rest stop for each team, plus two eight-hour stops.
'We have always been devoted to the well-being of the dogs and we always will be,' said Ken Freitas, Timberland's vice president of marketing. 'Now, we all know, for the first time that the race itself must change.'
Timberland said it is anxious to see the race -- Alaska's most famous sporting event -- reorganized in accordance with the Humane Society guidelines, and will base its sponsorship decision on the Iditarod Trade Committee's plans.
Hooley responded that the mushers are as interested as anyone else in keeping the dogs healthy and safe and that race organizers are 'very interested in making sure the race is properly run -- as safe as possible for the dogs -- but maintaining its competitive integrity.'
Timberline contributed about $375,000 to the race's $2 million budget last year, and Hooley said they would look for someone to replace the bootmaker if it withdraws its sponsorship.