In addition to her demanding career, Dr. Oakley, whose husband Shane is a firefighter, is also the mother of three daughters—16 year-old Sierra, 15-year-old Maya, and Willow, age nine. “Both my husband and I have exciting jobs—he flies all over to deal with wildfires—that means that we’re traveling a lot,” she explains. “So when we’re home, it’s all about family time, and making sure that we’re present together,” Dr. Oakley explains.
But Dr. Oakley also has been able to use her career to further family closeness. Her daughters share her interest in animals, and they grew up helping out at the veterinary clinic that she operates out of their home in Haines Junction. These days, when school isn’t in session, her two high-school age girls often accompany her on her trips to treat animals, and Dr. Oakley and her husband are home-schooling Willow, the youngest, so that she can accompany her mom most of the time. The girls started out just observing, as Dr. Oakley carefully taught them how to be safe around various creatures. But gradually, they’ve progressed to assisting Dr. Oakley with various tasks. For example, “Maya helped me to catch lynx kittens,” she explains.
While Dr. Oakley sometimes flies to jobs in helicopters, she’s no helicopter mom. She describes her daughters as “pretty amazingly responsible kids for their ages.” But she is quick to ascribe at least some of their maturity to growing up in the Yukon, where the inherent risks of living in a cold, rough climate make it essential to teach children how to fend for themselves from an early age. While most parents in the typical American suburb probably would hesitate to teach a four or five-year-old how to light a match and start a fire, let alone put a pack of them in his or her pocket. But those things are common-sense precautions in the Yukon, where a child who becomes lost could be at risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Despite her daughters’ love of animals, Dr. Oakley doesn’t know whether any of them will follow in her footsteps as a veterinarian. But she’s more concerned that they find some profession that gives them the same amount of satisfaction as she gets from hers. “You go where your passion takes you,” she explains. “I never regret taking this job, even though it’s not 9-to-5. That’s what I want most for them, to have something they really love to do.”