Interview: Dr. Oakley Shares Her Alaskan 100-Mile Diet and the Feelings of Togetherness Created By Nat Geo WILD’s Vetsgiving Event

Nat Geo WILD is celebrating Vetsgiving all week long with brand-new episodes of shows from your favorite TV vets. As part of the week-long celebration, I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Michelle Oakley about the tenth season of her hit show Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet, the new audience she’s found on Disney+, and what makes the Vetsgiving seasonal event so special.

(National Geographic/Amber Seyler)

(National Geographic/Amber Seyler)

Alex: Congratulations on ten seasons, that's a big milestone. Is the filming actually in season chunks or is it constant and then things get grouped into seasons for viewers?

Dr. Michelle Oakley: It's in chunks and it's pretty seasonal. A lot of my work is seasonal and it was really fun this year. For season ten, is that they got a little bit of all seasons, three out of four, I'd say. We started in late February and got a bunch of winter stuff because it's still lots of snow and winter here until end of April. So we had lots of fun winter things, and then we got spring and then we got summer. So it's a cool season ten because it's a little bit of everything, which is fun.

Alex: Your audience recently expanded with the launch of Disney+. Are you aware of the wider reach your show has? Has it changed your life at all? Do you get fan mail from an audience that maybe wasn't watching Nat Geo WILD before?

Dr. Michelle Oakley: Oh, 100%. It's so different since Disney+. And I think also as we progressed in the season, my daughters. I have three daughters, it’s a family business, they're all working with me. Sierra's now 24, Maya's 22 and Willow's 17, which blows people away if they've watched earlier seasons because they kind of get to see the girls grow up over eight years. But it's just been really neat for them to be a part of it because I think they pull in a lot of younger folks too. And now all of a sudden I'm getting tons of fan mail from little kids who want to be a vet. Or kids in middle school, young women in high school they're all excited to watch Sierra and Maya helping out. And I think the reactions are really fun with Sierra and Maya. Because Sierra is really into science and she just finished going to vet school herself, which is really cool. And then Maya is a little more, I wouldn't say squeamish, a little more reactive about some of the bodily fluids, some of the yucky parts of the veterinary medicine. And I think a lot of people identify with that too, but see her still stick it out and she knows what she has to do for the animals. So I think that whole dynamic of me as the vet, the family fun, a little bit of family tension sometimes, a little bit of silliness, how each of us approaches helping animals, that's been kind of cool to share. And I think pulls in a whole range of people now, which is a lot of fun.

Alex: Do you ever actually sit down and watch the show? Is it weird reliving some of these moments? Or you just mentioned, with your daughters, is it almost like home movies watching them grow up through the seasons?

Dr. Michelle Oakley: Oh yeah. I feel like I'm completely off the hook for scrapbooking… But yeah, we sit down and watch them together. Not all of them and all the time, but we all happen to be in the same place so we'll pull an episode and watch it. It's really fun. I feel like we laugh the whole time because our show, of course, there's tense moments and some sad moments. But there's a lot of humor in there and I love how Nat Geo and specifically some of our editors like Gina Camp, who's just amazing, she just watches for this humor. She throws them in there and it lightens up the mood, which you need. And that's why we have so much humor in what we do. We're always joking around. Not because we don't feel bad for the animals or we don't take our jobs seriously. It's kind of your lifeline when you have such an up and down rollercoaster of the day. We can have puppies in one minute and the next minute we have a senior dog who needs end-of-life care. So the next minute we could have a serious trauma and the next one is a health certificate for an animal to travel or routine work. So when you have that up and down all day, you have to find coping mechanisms. I think because there's no way you don't get attached to your patients, at least not for me. And so humor has been a good way and I love how we've put in a lot of humorous moments and that's fun. So when we watch it, we're kind of cracking up about, who said what. And Maya, my middle daughter, is very deadpan, and she's always been like that. She thinks she's really serious when she says something and she has just very dry sense of humor. So that's fun to see her comments and reactions. And every now and then our town guy who's one of our favorite people in the world, Wobby Wob. Rob Peterson, he'll make a guest appearance and we just all die laughing. Because he's always getting in a shot accidentally. It's just so funny to see it sometimes. He ends up actually on the show so we have a good time with that too.

Alex: This is the second year of Nat Geo WILD’s Vetsgiving. What's your favorite part of being part of Vetsgiving?

Dr. Michelle Oakley: Well, I actually love how we sometimes get on the phone and do little conference calls with all the vets and that has been hysterical. So to get on with Dr. Pol and the folks from the Critter Fixers and I just love that because they are so funny and it's just cool to have little chats with everyone. But then also to see everybody's recipes, that's fun to see what everyone's putting out there. And I'm honestly not much of a cook. It's always a group effort in our house and the girls are better than me at that. But we do stick to a real local diet, a 100-mile diet. We pick tons of berries and so we make a lot of natural things with berries. We eat a lot of fish and salmon because we're right on the ocean in Haines, Alaska. So we do a ton of catching salmon and smoking salmon. That's a huge family effort too. So then to share some of those recipes is fun to show people how we're doing it here and how we're kind of Alaskan style. The different recipes and how we eat, stuff like that. And then it's just a good time to reflect. I appreciate that Nat Geo makes a point of, what are you thankful for? And just that people, hopefully, people are thankful for their pets but also thankful for the vets that are really wanting to make sure that your animals are healthy and keep that bond going. And for dogs and cats, keeping them going well in their senior years and just being a part of their family really.

Alex: Speaking of a local diet, what resources do you recommend for people who may be inspired to follow that lead of committing to a lifestyle that has a smaller impact on the environment?

Dr. Michelle Oakley: Yeah, those kinds of things are just really important to me. And I think as important as the kind of foods you're picking, I would say is the kind of packaging. That's my number one thing is plastics. It hasn't been on the show yet, but hopefully it will be some time. But I do a lot of wildlife rescue with sea lions and a lot of marine mammals here that end up with tons of plastic packaging around their neck, ingested. So living on the ocean or any of us visiting, you see the amount of plastic in the ocean is just unbelievable. And so it's kind of encouraging to see the food you get the grocery store, there's been this push to stop with the plastic. We need to find alternatives. We need to change the kinds of plastic we use. At least start talking about it, even if we don't have the solutions yet. So that is really important. But the local 100-mile diet, I think it's been around a while. I think if you're down south, you just… South of Alaska, you have so many options to just grow some different mint or whatever your different herbs are into a pot and have them growing all the time. And it's cool to see the people have a couple of chickens in their yard, even in some urban areas. And a lot of people are growing just tiny gardens, but then there are community gardens. There's just a lot of options, I think, for finding out what grows well. Either growing it yourself or working with others to kind of share and trade. And that's so common here. If I can't get out to get some of the fish, I trade with people. I will work for food. Other folks here will harvest moose or deer and that’s sort of our meat for the winter. We'll trade for that. So I think it's just being more thoughtful about it is really all it takes is thinking about it. It's fun, it's kind of fun to think about what you're eating, where that food's coming from, how it's getting to you. And like I said, how it's being packaged to get to you. All of that really matters, and it's cool to see more people stopping and thinking about it, and being thoughtful about how they eat and cook and prepare and find their meals.

Alex: Well, thank you so much. I hope that gives a lot of your fans some inspiration on how to maybe modify this year's Thanksgiving to be a little bit more eco-friendly. And congratulations again on all the success of the show and reaching season ten this Vetsgiving.

Dr. Michelle Oakley: Thanks. I love how our shows were going out and doing a lot of outreach in different communities. So that's one new thing about this season where they covered. I think it's coming up in an episode that hasn't aired yet, but we actually raised money and chartered a catamaran, which is just a big boat. And we went to a lot of different native communities and just different communities here in southeast Alaska where they couldn't get a vet at all. It's like four or five hundred people, their only way in and out of these marine villages is by a ferry that only comes every couple of weeks. Or seaplanes, which are so expensive and also don't come very often. So we did a bunch of communities that literally made the boat our vet clinic. And went to these communities pulled up the dock and everyone brought their animals down. And it was just so cool, they were so excited. They were because they'd never get that care and their animals are so important to them. And so I just love how the show each season has showed a lot of the different ways that we can provide vet care. Either by, if it's not a boat we're going by snowmobile. I have Sea-Doos, I go by Sea-Doo quite often to some of the little communities just to go it over there and do a few different things. And it's almost like how we're talking about the food, it's like a little bit the journey is as important as what you're doing. You got to love your commute and we're making the most of ours. And I think really that journey of getting to where you need to do the work, that's something we share in this season I think is very interesting for people to see.

You can catch two brand-new episodes of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet on November 26th and 27th at 10/9c on Nat Geo WILD as part of Vetsgiving. Don’t forget to check out all of the shows this week and you can find recipes from each of the Nat Geo WILD vets right here.

Nat Geo WILD Vetsgiving 2021 Programming Lineup:

  • Mon, Nov 22: Critter Fixers: Country Vets: Plenty of Thanks
  • Tue, Nov 23: Heartland Docs, DVM: Farm Calls
  • Wed, Nov 24: The Hatcher Family Dairy: Farm Family Values
  • Thu, Nov 25: Incredible Dr. Pol: A Pol Lot of Babies AND a Special Sneak Peek of Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya
  • Fri, Nov 26:  Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet: Home is Where the Vet Is
  • Sat, Nov 27: Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet AND a Second Chance To See Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya
Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).