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Animal rescue group faces Upper Liard's dog dilemma

The Yukon Animal Rescue Network is taking on the problem of unwanted dogs in Upper Liard. In early March, the group managed to get eight stray dogs spayed and neutered.

The Yukon Animal Rescue Network is taking on the problem of unwanted dogs in Upper Liard.

In early March, the group managed to get eight stray dogs spayed and neutered. While the situation has improved in the small community over the years, there’s a lot of work left to be done, says Cheryl McGrath, who runs YARN along with Damian Nel.

“We recently started going out and asking people if we could spay and neuter their dogs because we don’t want to be chasing their descendents,” she said.

“A lot of the rescue shelters down south do this. But in the smaller communities where there is a higher aboriginal population, they raise their dogs differently.

“Some puppies are born outside in the middle of winter and freeze to death.”

Despite offering to catch, pay for the surgery and bring the dogs back to their owners - all for free - the group is still being met with some resistance.

One Upper Liard elder said he didn’t want to have his dog fixed because it might have wolf in it, and he might want puppies in the future, McGrath said.

“I asked him if he was prepared to create several litters of puppies and he didn’t answer,” she said.

“People don’t know what to do with their dogs. Last year someone left a box of puppies on the side of the Alaska Highway.”

Nel said the problem of having so many unwanted dogs reached a point where the pair couldn’t turn a blind eye anymore.

“Word is spreading and we have already made trips to several small communities in the Yukon and Northern B.C.,” he said.

“We avoid politics and are simply appreciative that a community would let us help their animals. If we do not do what we are doing, there will be culls in the future, and an increased risk of dog packs getting aggressive and endangering communities.”

The pair has helped about 300 dogs since Jan. 2014, McGrath said.

Based on the footage recorded by Nel and posted to the group’s YouTube page, capturing a stray dog is anything but a walk in the park.

In the 10-minute clip, Nel can be seen trying to lure big dogs into baited cages. Sporadic fights break out around him. When he finally catches one, he brings it to the YARN nursery - McGrath’s home - where it will spend the night in isolation before being fixed the next day.

“Damian is a huge help,” McGrath said.

“I’ll always have this image of him running through three-foot snow, his knees up to his earlobes, chasing down a pregnant female who will then pee on him.”

This time, the effort coincided with a visit to Watson Lake from the Copper Road Veterinary Clinic, McGrath said.

Without official society status, McGrath says the vast majority of bills that YARN accumulates are paid out of her own pocket. That’s tens of thousands of dollars in food, vet bills and transportation costs.

The group hopes to organize another spay and neuter campaign before the end of the month so it can take advantage of vouchers offered by the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter in Whitehorse, which cut the price of the surgery in half.

But they need financial assistance in order to make that happen, McGrath said.

People can donate to the group via electronic transfer to, and can also donate directly to YARN’s account at Alpine Veterinary.

Contact Myles Dolphin at