Three People Mover buses are featuring ads this week against the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, paid for by a national animal-rights group.

The ads show a chained sled dog and the caption "Iditarod: Chained, suffering, and dying dogs. End the race."

The ads were paid for by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which staged a dog funeral downtown at the ceremonial start of last year's Iditarod. Outreach manager John Di Leonardo said the organization spent roughly $5,000 for the ads, which are scheduled to run through March 17.

"PETA is not slowing down; we are going to be upping our campaign every year until we get dogs out of this deadly race," Di Leonardo said. "$5,000 is a small price to pay to get the message out that these dogs are suffering, and they're dying in the race."

Jamie Acton, Anchorage's director of public transportation, said the municipality does have some restrictions for advertising on city buses, which generally bar indecency and obscenity, ads for alcohol or tobacco. The current PETA ads, however, are OK.

"These ads do not violate any of those restrictions," he said. "So, at this point we are not interfering with any First Amendment rights, freedom of speech; [we are] just trying to provide advertising opportunities for the community."

But while the city has said yes to PETA, officials with Fur Rondy have said no.

The organization is working to develop a Downtown Mushing District on Fourth Avenue to honor the Iditarod's ceremonial start and the sport of dog mushing in general. Organizers are selling bronze plaques to sponsors, which would be placed along Fourth, as part of fundraising efforts.

Although PETA recently purchased a plaque, on which it planned to list dogs that had died in the race, officials with the mushing district returned their money.

"PETA has been refunded their donation to this initiative, as it is not in the spirit or support of this project," development manager Denis Hippert wrote in a statement.

The Mushing District and Arch is an effort and project that does not focus on any one sled dog race but is dedicated to the history and story of dog mushing, the Alaskan state sport. The effort’s intent has and will be educational to residents and visitors alike of the role of dog mushing to the Alaska Native people, the bush communities, the development of the state, honoring sport icons in all distances of racing, as well as to highlight factual details regarding the care of the dogs in this arena.

Di Leonardo said he wasn't surprised PETA's payment for the plaque had been refunded, but added the organization will remain active in efforts to end the race. He said PETA continues to contact major sponsors, asking them to drop out, and is also planning protests at the start of the race.

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