PINETOP-LAKESIDE – It’s been almost a year since the announcement came from NatGeo Wild that local veterinarian Dr. Ole Alcumbrac would launch eight one-hour episodes of a new show “The Wild Life of Dr. Ole.”
But, like so many other things, COVID-19 caused the delay of its launch. This Sunday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. Arizona time, the show will premiere nationally, and locally a red carpet event is planned at the Lion’s Den in Pinetop beginning around 5:30 p.m. as well as an invitation-only event to view the premiere at the WME Village 8 in Lakeside.
Like most television filmings, there are re-takes and pick-up shots for segments that follow the original filming. The Nat Geo crew and the staff at Dr. Ole’s White Mountain Animal Clinic were challenged with adjusting and re-adjusting their schedules due to a staff member having tested positive for the virus. There was a two week quarantine but the staff member continued to test positive for about two months. Finally getting a negative, the crew was able to return and complete the series’ shots.
Alcumbrac, affectionately known by all as Dr. Ole, is not your usual veterinarian. His practice goes beyond dogs and cats; it includes exotics. He is also the Director of Wildlife Health Services which specializes in the immobilization and capture of native and exotic species, the vet for Bearizona Wildlife Park and US Fish & Wildlife Service where he is the project veterinarian for the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program.
In 2017 the Outdoor Channel had featured Alcumbrac in a five-episode series called “Wild Ops,” for a single season. In 2019 he heard that High Noon Entertainment in Colorado had seen his stuff and was interested in doing a vet show. He and his staff produced a video and submitted it. NatGeo liked it, elevated it to the next level for consideration and sent a crew to the Mountain to film for three days — one day in the White Mountain Animal Clinic, one at a ranch in Springerville and one at Bearizona. The end result was the green light from NatGeo and last year the scripted filming of the actual show began on the Mountain with a plan for a summer premiere.
But, COVID-19 happened. The NatGeo crew needed to return to the Mountain to do some pick up shot segments for the show but Alcumbrac’s practice manager tested positive for COVID and they had to delay the shots. After a two week quarantine, the manager still tested positive for the virus and continued to do so for nearly two months. Finally getting a negative for COVID-19, the crew was able to come back and film and Sunday night, the show will indeed be a reality.
Alcumbrac says the premier is not about his celebrity status, but about highlighting the White Mountain community. He says the purpose of the show is to educate and entertain people with the series and to help people understand his unique practice and what vets are able to do.
“There were only two vets when I came here in 1993,” said Alcumbrac. “My plan was to just open a White Mountain clinic and work there for five years, sell it and go back to wildlife and zoo medicine. Now, 27 years later, I am still here, having also opened Alta Sierra and Hearthside in Snowflake. I became a permanent fixture here.”
Alcumbrac said he doesn’t know how many vets are in the White Mountains today, but looking back, the many vets who contribute to animal care on the Mountain — from single doctors to corporate practices who found their niches and places where they thrive — it is truly amazing to him.
“It is nice to have your life’s work documented,” said Alcumbrac. “It saves me from having to write my memoirs.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions only 60 seats are available at the Village 8 and 50 VIP invitations have already gone out. Alcumbrac said that some may take a chance and show up at the theater to see if there is a seat available for the 8 p.m. viewing, but for those who cannot get the channel, or would like to join others for the premiere, the Lion’s Den has five large screens which will stream the show.
“In March 2019 the Walt Disney Company officially purchased the National Geographic Channel where ‘The Wild Life of Dr. Ole,’ will be shown. That being the case,” Alcumbrac humorously added, “That makes me a Disney character.”