On Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet viewers get to experience what it means to be the only all-species vet for hundreds of square miles in the Yukon Territory of Northern Canada. Michelle Oakley is a little different than your average city veterinarian. Like all vets, she is dedicated to the health and care of all animals and has a tremendous amount of empathy for the people in their lives. However, her patients are diverse and so are her challenges.
The Sled Dog Vet
On the season premier, one of Dr. Oakley’s tasks is to ensure the health of all the dogs participating in the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, a world-class Yukon sled dog race that runs a circuit from Dawson City, Yukon to Eagle, Alaska and back. This will require her to diagnose medical issues on the fly, treat dogs that need care, and be on call for 24 hours.
Like most races, The Percy DeWolfe requires all the participating sled dogs to be cleared by the race veterinarian before starting the race. After the dogs are cleared, Dr. Oakley has to stage at the first pit stop ahead of the racers to be available to examine dogs and assist any that are injured or showing signs of distress. Dogs that need care will be left with her to continue to monitor and treat. It is an exhausting, but fulfilling 24 hours.
The Evolution of Sled Dog Veterinary Care
Mushers, the drivers of the sled teams, are dedicated to their canine companions and the level of care the dogs receive has evolved. The dogs are bred to be athletes and they have a strong desire to run. This means that the musher must be mindful that the dogs do not over-work themselves.
Winning a race means more than just getting the team across the finish line. Mushers now task themselves with learning to detect subtle health issues and changes in demeanor during the race. Any change in the dog might indicate impending distress. So Dr. Oakley listens closely to what the mushers say when they voice concern about their dogs. More than just race triage, the sled dog community has also worked to ensure better foot care for the dogs and an understanding of massage therapy as well as psychological support for the dog athletes and teams.
There is also an organization that is dedicated specifically to care of sled dogs. The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (I.S.D.V.M.A.) is made up primarily of medical professionals with experience working with sled dogs. I.S.D.V.M.A also publishes The Musher and Veterinary Handbook. This publication has become a go-to resource for mushers and veterinarians. The I.S.D.V.M.A. also supports and encourages scientific research to further a better understanding of the racing sled dogs.
Dr. Oakley quickly evaluates and gives care to her athletic charges. This is no easy task when every team is made up of nine dogs! It’s no surprise when the dogs in her care come through with flying colors.