ANCHORAGE (AP) -- In a final act of corporate kindness, Pets.com tossed a lifeline to Alaska dog mushers faced with the cruel reality of either killing their dogs or watching them starve.
The San Francisco-based online retailer, which pulled the plug on Nov. 7 after failing to find a financial backer, donated more than 21 tons of dog food to help mushers in Alaska's Interior.
The collapse of salmon runs this year left mushers with too little food for the dogs this winter. Villagers use sled dogs to check trap lines, haul water and firewood, and travel between villages.
When the animal-loving company heard about the plight of the hungry sled dogs, it knew it had to act, said John Cummings, director of investor relations. The on-line retailer kept the plan to itself and waited until it was in liquidation before going ahead because it didn't want to hear from grumpy stockholders who might want the inventory sold instead, he said.
''Even a struggling dot com still has a responsibility as a company,'' Cummings said Thursday. ''Our company is committed to pets, to animal welfare. Most people at this company are passionate about it.''
The donated food bore the Pets.com brand name.
At Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' request, the dog food, which was being stored in Seattle, was transferred to a Lynden Transport container and placed on a Totem Ocean Trailer Express vessel for shipment to Alaska.
The Alaska Railroad Corp. then agreed to get the dog food from Anchorage to Fairbanks, where it was transferred to the Tanana Chiefs Conference for distribution to the villages of Anvik, Grayling, Holy Cross, Nikolai, Shageluk, Takotna and Kalskag.
''It's great that these companies have stepped forward to help our village residents,'' Stevens said.
Railroad spokeswoman Wendy Lindskoog said the railroad shipped about three trailer loads of dog food to Fairbanks on Nov. 27.
''The dogs are hungry,'' she said. ''It gave us a good chance to help out.''
The Tanana Chiefs Conference knows of about 5,000 dogs in 42 villages that need food this winter, said Perry Ahsogeak, director of community and natural resources.
When salmon runs on the Yukon River collapsed, Gov. Tony Knowles declared a disaster in the area. There were so few fish that even subsistence fishing for food was halted. Then reports surfaced that some dog mushers were having to kill dogs rather than watch them starve.
Since then, tons of dog food and fish have been donated for distribution to dog owners. Ralston Purina Co. in October donated 22.5 tons of dog food. Twenty-thousand pounds of sockeye salmon went to the dogs after King Triton Fisheries went bankrupt.
Several Fairbanks-based air carriers stepped in to help get the dog food and fish to the villages. The U.S. Postal Service agreed to ship donations of more than 200,000 pounds as bypass mail, cheaper than regular mail. And the Humane Society of the United States has volunteered to coordinate donations and delivery of not only food but high-calorie supplements, such as lard or oil, to get the dogs through the harsh Alaska winter.
Donations may be sent to Alaskan Dog Relief Project, HSUS Northern Rockies Regional Office, 490 North 31st St., 215, Billings MT 59106.
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