In performing her arduous and often dangerous duties, Dr. Oakley is motivated by her lifelong love for animals and fascination with them. “Since I was old enough to remember, I’ve been interested in them,” she explains. “When I was growing up, we lived on a creek in Indiana, and I would put out bait to lure raccoons into the house, which my family wasn’t thrilled about, of course. My uncle had a dairy farm, and I spent a lot of time around animals there. It’s always been a part of my nature.” As she was growing up, she rode horses and also read avidly about nature, and primatologist Jane Goodall, famed for her study of chimpanzees in Africa and work as a wildlife conservationist, became one of the future veterinarian’s heroes. Eventually, she went on to earn a degree from Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada.
“One of my goals is to work on conservation-based projects, like Jane Goodall did,” Dr. Oakley explains. “I love that part of my job—being able to work with wildlife and endangered species.”
But once Dr. Oakley began her practice, she discovered that in addition to treating her patients, she had to help counsel the humans who owned them as well. To do the job, “you’ve got to love people as much as you love animals,” she explained. People often regard their pets as family members, but dogs and other creatures in Alaska may also be working animals that owners depend upon as well. “Because of their strong bonds with their animals, owners often are deeply appreciative of her efforts to help their creatures. “When I go to a small town, people are always bringing me halibut or other fish, and giving me things to show their gratitude,” she says. “Or they’ll invite me into their homes.” She empathizes with them, “because I know how I’d feel if my own animals were sick.”