Watson Lake woman builds puppy palace

Cheryl McGrath freely admits she's surrounded by more cuteness than the average person. That's just what happens when you have 22 dogs at your house.

Cheryl McGrath freely admits she’s surrounded by more cuteness than the average person.

That’s just what happens when you have 22 dogs at your house.

McGrath is one of two people who run the Yukon Animal Rescue Network (YARN) out of Watson Lake.

Since January of last year, she and fellow Yukoner Damian Nel have been rescuing abandoned dogs and puppies, finding them new homes both in the Yukon and Outside.

“My family has despaired that I’ve ‘gone to the dogs,’ but oh well, it’s my life,” McGrath said laughing.

So far this year they have rescued and relocated about 100 dogs, she said.

McGrath runs YARN’s nursery for moms and puppies on her property in Watson Lake. Her home is about 427 square metres (1,400 square feet) and has a 183 square metre (600 square foot) deck on about a hectare of land.

Nel lives about 30 km outside Watson Lake and houses the older dogs with him.

McGrath says she hopes to expand her home in the future to make even more room.

At her house, McGrath has about 12 older dogs that help socialize the young ones. The goal is to get the puppies out of there and to their new homes fast – usually at around eight weeks old.

“We try and send them on to a rescue as quickly as possible. Because you don’t want them to grow up in care, you know? You want their families to enjoy their puppy-ness,” she said.

A grown dog can take a little bit longer, she said. That’s especially true if it has spent its entire life fending for itself.

“Because of the location we’re coming from, some of these dogs have never been touched,” she said.

It’s Nel that does most of the driving. When you’re running an animal rescue out of the North, driving is a big part of the job.

Nel estimates he logged about 50,000 km last year.

With such a small population of would-be owners in the territory, not every dog that is rescued in the Yukon can stay in the Yukon.

That means networking with other rescue organizations in larger populations.

This past winter, a rescue organization on the Sunshine Coast took some of YARN’s dogs.

“They had a lineup of people wanting dogs … So that works really well for us,” McGrath said.

But McGrath made the choice not to go the route of becoming a registered society. She says she doesn’t have the time or manpower for that.

“Yes, you can get great government funds if you go that route, but we don’t have people to fill out all that paperwork. We’re both working full time and working all day with animals.”

Without official society status, the vast majority of bills that YARN accumulates are paid out of McGrath’s own pocket.

That’s tens of thousands of dollars in food, vet bills and transportation costs.

Earlier this year the organization took up two days of Alpine Veterinary Medical Clinic in Whitehorse to send eight animals to be fixed. That worked out to about $3,000, McGrath said.

Still, she says she doesn’t mind footing the bill.

“I earn an incredible salary, I manage the Big Horn Hotel, it’s our family business and I’ve been doing it for 20 years,” she said.

“Everything I can spare gets spent on the animals, just because I love them.”

After living in the community for so long, she said she’s been able to gain people’s trust.

She also works closely with Watson Lake animal control and the local First Nation, she said.

McGrath said sometimes people in the community struggle with the idea of catching a dog and housing it inside.

“This is the way they’ve always done it. All dogs live outside, all dogs live this way,” she said.

“None of them fix their animals. You can’t change that by criticizing or by forcing people, it has to be an education thing.”

She says she’s already seen some improvements, especially in Upper Liard.

“There’s rarely a dog that’s wandering around that’s unwanted or homeless anymore.”

Earlier this week, the team came to the rescue of a mother dog and her young pups.

Nel got a call from a concerned neighbour who had found a cardboard box fully of puppies sitting at the side of the highway in the pouring rain.

“Inside were eight puppies, soaking wet. So he brought those puppies to Damian,” McGrath said.

The next day, McGrath got a call about a mother dog and one puppy found in a ditch.

“I knew right away this was the rest of her litter.”

The dog has since been named Marley Too and the family of 10 has been reunited.

Because they’re not an official society, both McGrath and Nel recognize that people might be uncomfortable just handing over cash.

One way people can “know” their money is going directly to the animals is by donating directly to YARN’s account at Alpine Veterinary.

But that’s not the only way they’re looking to make some cash.

YARN hopes to earn some money from the cuteness they’re surrounded with everyday, by posting online videos.

They have started up a YouTube channel. The group gets a share of the advertising revenue, based on the number of views.

The channel has been running for about six months. A 17-second video of one dog “smiling” already has more than 85,000 views.

A six-minute-long video of Marley being reunited with her pups was posted two days ago.

“The one way people can come and help, without us making them come and give their time, and without them handing us money, is to just share our videos,” McGrath said.

“We intend on making a lot of videos. We’re surrounded by cuteness constantly, so why not film it?”

The channel can be found at: www.youtube.com/user/YukonAnimalRescue/

Contact Ashley Joannou at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

Most of Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 graduates. The former students were welcomed back and honoured by staff at the school on Oct. 14 with a personalized grad ceremony for each graduate. (Submitted)
Individual Learning Centre grads honoured

Members of the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 were welcomed… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Most Read