Famous television veterinarian Dr. Michelle Oakley is enjoying her tenth season on Nat Geo WILD. Her practice in Haines, Alaska, is busier than ever, with domestic and wild animals seeking her help.
Braving the elements, she makes house calls, often traversing desolate wilderness and dangerous stretches of water to check on a patient. Her series has resonated and accurately depicts her busy life and balancing act of being a full-time vet, wife, and mother.
And, as we learned in our exclusive interview, sometimes she has to become a bison wrangler.
Oakley lives and works in Haines Junction, Yukon, running an animal clinic out of the home she shares with her husband Shane and three daughters, Sierra, Maya, and Willow. She also runs weekly clinical sessions 148 miles away in Haines, Alaska, and 96 miles away in Whitehorse, Yukon.
And, Dr. Oakley is part of some holiday news to share, as it ’tis the season. Nat Geo WILD is preparing to host Vetsgiving this November, and all of the network’s fan-favorite vets will be seen from Monday, November 22nd through Sunday, November 28th. Each day features new episodes, and the network will roll out a brand-new series during the lineup. Dr. Joya Griffin is the newcomer to Nat Geo Wild with her series Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya, and viewers will get a sneak peek of her show during Vetsgiving before it premiers in early 2022.
The next episode of Dr. Oakley’s series will feature a limping bull bison and a dog with a mammary mass.
Monsters & Critics got the details and some breaking news about her daughter Sienna.
Exclusive interview with Dr. Michelle Oakley for Nat Geo WILD:
Monsters & Critics: Did you ever think you would make Season 10 on National Geographic Channel?
Dr. Michelle Oakley: Can you believe it? I’m kind of on cloud nine. And now it’s on Disney+ too, which opened up an even bigger audience. I think we’re now in the fourth episode to air so far, and it’s so fun because they caught a lot of our kind of epic travel.
We always have crazy epic travel. We go by snowmobile, by boat. I have Seadoos that I use to get to a little community quicker and partly because I want to have fun on my commute, but I also want to do quick calls on some of the smaller island communities here, and they covered all that.
So to be able to share the crazy travel that we do, that’s such a huge part of running a mobile practice throughout Alaska and the Yukon. So it is the travel. It is enjoying the journey and sharing the journey. So I love that that’s going to be in this season a lot.
M&C: And Haines is not the biggest city in the world. So people must see you on TV and be thrilled that they have a celebrity in town.
Dr. Michelle Oakley: Oh yes. There’s a bit of that. There’s a bit of teasing and a bit of like, yeah. Some people are funny. We have a young woman who recently moved to town, Hannah, and her birthday’s coming up. She’s going to be 12. And apparently, she was a super fan before they moved to town. So I’m going to surprise her on her birthday in a couple of days. And I can’t wait because I see her in the grocery store. She freezes. And I say, ‘It’s okay, Hannah, you’re okay.’
But a lot of the folks in town are on the show. So we started going to a local pub that shows the episodes, so we all come out too, getting together and watching them. And that’s been fun because we can all tease each other a bit or enjoy each other’s stories. So it’s been a lot of fun.
M&C: Give me some back story on the coming episode. You are supposed to be treating a limping bull bison and a dog with a mammary mass. So tell me about your patients coming up?
Dr. Michelle Oakley: So the limping bull bison. He’s incredible and really important in his herd of bison at the Alaska wildlife conservation center.
And I’m the head vet there, in Girdwood, Alaska. So once a month, I go and do their vet work. And this herd is so special because they’re wood bison. They’re in huge, massive pastures there. And they’re breeding stock. And a lot of them are going out to the wild to start a brand new herd in Alaska, the first wood bison herd ever in Alaska since these animals went extinct maybe 200 years ago here.
So, that’s cool to work with animals that you know will go out to the wild, and this guy has done it all. But, of course, he’s not going to go out to the wild, but he sired a considerable part of that herd. So, he’s just a special animal. And he also tries to kill me every time I see him.
He has run me to the fence. So he comes out, and he totally knows me. And he’s a bit of a stinker, but when he has a sore foot, we let bygones be bygones.
Anyway, it’s a lot of excitement because when you have a group of bull bison together, they’re best buddies until one of them suddenly goes down and has a limp. Then the other ones will start picking on the wounded bull, really challenging them.
And then when we dart them and go down, they go to sleep, and the other ones act like, ‘Oh, okay. Now is my opportunity to get this guy and knock him down a notch.’ So it’s rowdy to get in there with four bull bison when you can’t separate them any other way, except with four-wheelers, and we’re trying to chase them away in the lane.
Meanwhile, we’re trying not to get flipped over the four-wheeler. And there’s lots of excitement. But some days, it makes me wish I could just like be in a regular clinic, get the patient and put them on the table. I haven’t even got to do vet work yet. And I’m running for my life!
M&C: Do larger animals like bison and horses know when they’re hurting. Do they calm down eventually because they perceive your intentions or not?
Dr. Michelle Oakley: I don’t know about horses and bison in terms of that. I see that in dogs. A couple of episodes ago, we had a dog, Bodhi, who had his foot caught in a trap. He was out just running backcountry skiing with his owners, and he came across some old traps left out there. He got trapped and stuck overnight.
They found him, and his foot was frozen solid. It is one of the more touching cases I’ve ever had. So glad we got to share it because we pulled out all the stops to save his leg. Because when you have serious frostbite, amputation is very typical, and not just the toes. You have to amputate the whole leg on a dog.
So, he’s a Malinois, and for him to be three-legged and ever go backcountry skiing again in waist-deep powder? Well, that was never going to happen. And his owners are backcountry ski guides. So their whole life would have to change.
And we worked hard to save him, but you have to watch the show. We pulled out all the stops and did fish skin. I had to get on FaceTime and do a procedure with an orthopedic specialist walking me through it because we couldn’t get him to a specialist to do it. So I’m doing veterinary medicine through FaceTime, with the books and everything, trying to figure it all out.
That kind of stuff is cool to share. And that dog was one that I felt like he knew I was trying to help him. He came in, come in twice a week. He comes in, wags his tail. He jumped up onto our table, three-legged, and lay there and was like, ‘Okay, do it.’ And it hurts. We gave him pain meds, but of course, anyone that’s had a chronic wound managed knows there’s still some discomfort.
And so for him to do that every week, it just made me so happy that he understood, he got it and as far as the bison and the horses. But, nope, I mean, they’re essentially prey animals, and they want to get away or go after and get you. So I haven’t had a lot of them behave.
I worked with a Wolverine who seemed to know, but he was tricky. They are just so darn tough.
M&C: A Wolverine seems to be like a combination between a bear and some Badger or something.
Dr. Michelle Oakley: Yes, just like the Honeybadger, they don’t give a beep. [laughs] They are in the same family as a Badger. And they are tough as nails, insanely spunky and feisty and pound for pound. One of the nastiest. A Wolverine weighs maybe 20 pounds, and it can take on a full-grown caribou. It jumps on their neck and runs all over them, and takes them down.
They’re just so unbelievable. Wolverines are very intimidating to work on because they’re so fast and have incredible bite force.
M&C: Public service announcement: Do not try to get a Wolverine for a pet.
Dr. Michelle Oakley: Do not get them as pets, and don’t try to reach in their mouths. However, one of our clients on the show quite regularly has a Wolverine rescue and a pet Wolverine. He puts his hand in the Wolverine’s mouth and rubs the animal’s gums, and the Wolverine starts drooling.
It’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen. It puts the Wolverine in a trance, and it’s almost like when you scratch your dog in a particular spot, and he loves it? Well, the Wolverine, he rubs its gums intensely, and the drool starts pouring, and that Wolverine just sits there with his eyes looking off in space.
When he’s drooling and happy is when I run over and give him an injection of an anesthetic. And that’s how we work on this Wolverine. And he doesn’t even react when I poke him. It’s so crazy.
Cool things about season 10, I have to say, are always the variety of species. I love how we cover all the seasons because a considerable character in our show is Alaska, the Yukon and mother nature herself, and what a diva she is can be.
It’s so much effort just to get out and do our jobs. So we raised money, chartered a boat, and went community to community in Southeast Alaska, where all these fishing villages are.
There’s a lot of small native communities. And the boat was our clinic, and we pulled up at the dock, and people would line up at the dock and come down and get their animals seen. And they had never seen a vet. So that was super cool.
M&C: I’m sure there’s a lot of depressed areas in these small villages. People don’t have vet money, so they want animals, but that’s a huge problem. They want to save animals, and they have huge hearts. And then the financial aspect of that is daunting.
Dr. Michelle Oakley: And we all need our pets. COVID and all of those things, including here, is getting dark now at five o’clock at night. The sun doesn’t come up till about 8:30, and it’s only going to get darker.
And that pet, dog, cat, whatever—they keep you going, get you out. If you’re living alone, if you’re out fishing in remote areas, that’s your companionship. That is your lifeline.
So it’s cool to be a part of keeping those animals healthy. So we had a family show up at our boat clinic. We saw the skiff coming across the inlet in gnarly waves, this little boat full of people, three kids, and a dad. And they have a chicken, and they’re bringing me the chicken.
They heard the vet was in town and, and they didn’t have a phone, but they heard the news we were there on handheld radios. So they walked the chicken down the dock with his little harness.
They’re out there, and they love their animals, and they’re learning how to raise chickens. And the chicken had a foot problem, which we quickly dealt with, but I just love it when you go to these communities that need vet help.
M&C: You have three daughters now is your oldest daughter Sierra. Is she going to be a vet? Is she on her way?
Dr. Michelle Oakley: Okay. Newsflash: You can break the news. She just applied to vet school three days ago and just sent her applications in officially. Everyone’s been asking her [if she was going to be a vet] for years.
And since she graduated from university three years ago, I’ve said, “please don’t ask her about vet school. Do not push her because I want [that decision] to be her thing. It’s very confusing with this is your life, and you’ve grown up doing it, but is it what you want to do?”
And so we’ve had lots of conversations, and she’s like, “Nope, I’m not going to do this.” So we’re like, okay, cool. And then suddenly, when we went to Australia last season for three months, we helped with the wildfires when they had this horrible weather. So we volunteered and helped, and she loved it. The good news is she’s applying to vet schools. The bad news is she’s applying in Australia. She just loved it and fell in love with everything about Australia.
M&C: You have to visit and do shows with her there.
Dr. Michelle Oakley: These are the early days, and she just applied; getting into vet school can take a couple of years. It took me two years and two tries. I finally got in.
And so, who knows if she’s going to get in? I’m just kind of super geeked. And my heart is so full that she’s suddenly, she’s like, “Yes, this is my passion. This [being a vet] is what I want to do.”
And I’m so proud and so excited for her. And I’m just glad it’s her thing. My other two love animals. Maya, my middle daughter, got her degree and loves animals, and worked as my vet assistant. She is our empathy one who looks after all the animals in post-op care. She makes sure they’re comfortable when they come in. She’s always all about the pain meds, making sure they go home well taken care of, and every little thing of their stay is not scary, and that’s so important for their healing, let alone their mental health. I love that. That’s her thing.
Our little Willow is our feral forest child. She just runs around and shows up now and then. And I think if we have another season, she’s finally committed to coming to work in the clinic and traveling with us. So she makes these little appearances, and then people just freak out who’ve been watching the show because when the show started, she was seven or eight years old, and now she’s 17. And so for them to see her grown-up, I think it’s floors people.
M&C: The standout episode for you that hasn’t aired. How do you get your fans geeked up, to prepare?
Dr. Michelle Oakley: I think the boat clinic, the traveling with the mobile practice boat in the Gulf of Alaska throughout Southeast throw Shelby, Alaska. It’s epic. We see killer whales as we pull into a community, and then a huge brown bear attacks a calf on a little farm there. The brown bear was just there. It’s still on the property. We get the calf we’re dealing with, and it’s unbelievable. This bear attack all happened when we pulled into this community. So that is quite the episode, seeing how we get around, but also seeing the kinds of trauma that we deal with and then how we deal with it when we got this mobile clinic on the go.
And the fight of that calf who wanted to live. So that’s also what kind of gets me. With many of our patients, it would have been so easy to walk away from Bodhi, the dog with the frostbitten foot, or walk away from Dinky, this calf that was attacked by a bear and taken the attitude, well, there’s another calf gone.
But, these animals want to live and are fighting, and we’re super excited to fight right next to them and show that success.
And sometimes you don’t [have success], but it’s part of the journey. The journey of getting there and the journey trying to help these animals just live their lives.
So I love that. And I think people appreciate that.
Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet, has new episodes premiering Saturdays at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD
You can see all of Nat Geo WILD’s vet shows during Vetsgiving. Full schedule below.
Monday, November 22nd – Critter Fixers: Country Vets
Tuesday, November 23rd – Heartland Docs, DVM
Wednesday, November 24th – Hatcher Family Dairy
Thursday, November 25th – The Incredible Dr. Pol and Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya
Friday, November 26th – Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet
Saturday, November 27th – Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet
Sunday, November 28th – Vets on the Beach