Veterinarian Michelle Oakley is used to facing the wild animals of "the Great North," considering her years of experience at Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada's Yukon Territory.
What she's not so used to is having to face the claws and scratching of biting television critics and media mammals who must be tamed to assure ratings success in the world of entertainment.
Michelle, 45, the daughter of Steve and Georgia Plantinga, who live in Schererville, has spent much of the start of 2014 making the rounds working to promote her new reality show set to premiere in April.
Last month, she was at the 2014 Winter Television Critics Association Convention at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Next month, she's in New York for the East Coast event equivalent.
The 1987 graduate of Munster High School is the soon-to-be star of "The Amazing Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet," a one-hour reality series that has already been shot and sold to begin airing in April (premiere date TBA) on cable's National Geographic Channel. The show follows Michelle as she raises her family and makes rounds in the Yukon Territory, treating animals of all shapes and sizes. She has lived in Haines Junction, Yukon since 1992 with her husband Shane Oakley, their three daughters, and an assortment of animal friends. (President of the National Geographic Channel Howard Owens calls her "one of the coolest and greatest working moms I Know.")
Since graduating from veterinary college in 2000, Michelle has been providing veterinary care to all creatures in rural communities of SE Alaska and Yukon, as well as providing specialized veterinary services in wildlife health and anesthesia for conservation and research projects throughout the north.
After undergraduate work at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she went on to the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in Canada. She graduated from Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, PEI, in 2000. In 2008, Michelle completed an internship in zoo/wildlife medicine at Calgary Zoo and University of Calgary College of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), where she is now an adjunct associate professor in the school's Department of Ecosystem and Public Health. In her free time, which is less and less these days, Michelle said she loves to spend family time in the Yukon outdoors, camping, kayaking, fishing and horseback riding.
Right now, she's in the middle of working with on location camera crews to capture another six weeks of filming to edit into more episodes.
In one of the last stories abut Michelle in The Times, our environmental reporter Lauri Harvey Keagle interviewed her about her progress with a pilot project that involves injecting timber wolves with contraceptive vaccines to help control their population, the first-ever attempt to use the vaccine on wolves. (While animal enthusiasts were thrilled the wolf population in the Yukon was thriving, they were also concerned about the survival rate of the struggling woodland caribou, which the wolves feed on.)
At the same time, Michelle was also hot on the tracks of mountain lions who had suddenly re-emerged as residents of the Yukon, long after they were thought to be no more in that geographic region.
She admits first experience with veterinary work came when she was still in elementary school in Munster, and still had the last name of Plantinga, while volunteering at the Hammond Pet Hospital with veterinarian David George.