The 2020 Iditarod will mark a new era for The Last Great Race on Earth and it started with a sit-down with PETA — a meeting the new Iditarod CEO wants to lead to a recognition of shared goals.

New Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach met with officials from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Los Angeles Thursday while he was in town for a premiere screening of the film, "The Great Alaskan Race."

“Our interests are about animal welfare, as is theirs,” Urbach said. "Clearly there has been a 25-30 year history of the animal rights advocacy against the Iditarod, whose goal essentially has been to abolish the Iditarod, and we’re trying to change that narrative so that we have a common discussion around animal welfare."

Urbach stressed that Iditarod, and the mushers who compete, have a great understanding of exercise physiology for dogs. 

"Imagine that knowledge could be repurposed and repackaged for an average pet owner across the country, which would be in PETA’s best interest," he said. "So it’s an interesting dialogue that’s happening right now."

That may be an understatement, as PETA has fiercely criticized Iditarod over the years, publishing articles such as "8 Reasons Why You'll Support Ending the Iditarod Race."

The organization bought ads on People Mover buses in February, with the caption, "Iditarod: Chained, suffering, and dying dogs. End the race."

"They have been fairly aggressive in their tactics and they certainly sensationalized in their media and their attacks against the Iditarod, and so we’re having a hopefully an objective conversation that can understand each other a little bit better and hope that we can solve some of these issues going forward,” Urbach said.

Urbach attended the meeting with Jeff King, a four-time Iditarod champion. King brought along one of his dogs, Zig.

"Zig would put paws up on the table and PETA would allege that a dog that could somehow survive the Iditarod would be crippled for life. And yet we know that's not true," Urbach said. "There are plenty of dogs in our kennels that have done the Iditarod, six, seven, eight times living pretty good lives."

Urbach said the meeting was an education process and hopes both organizations can come to a consensus of mutual respect.

"If there's something that we can do that will improve the welfare of our animals, whether in our kennels or in our race, we should listen to that," he said. "And so I've challenged them to an objective review of the practices of the Iditarod in regards to our dogs."

Late last week, the Iditarod Trail Committee unveiled a partnership with Aker Biomarine, in which Iditarod has become a featured race in QPAWS, an international four-race circuit.

Dave Goldman contributed to this report.

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