Decatur Daily article written by Catherine Godbey Staff Writer

One Paw at a Time

Animals find love and hope at no-kill shelter in Tanner

With 60 dogs and 20 cats secure in their cages, Cathy Oakley prepared to head home after another 16-hour day at Peace, Love & Animals. At 11:30 p.m., the phone rang. The caller, one of Oakley's employees, spotted a malnourished dog in a ditch — and could Oakley come help?

Ten times a day, callers contact the founder of the no-kill animal shelter in Limestone County about abandoned or abused animals. Ten times a day, Oakley gathers food, crates and leashes in hopes of rescuing the mistreated animals.

She has traipsed through the woods at night and searched through the homes of hoarders. Six weeks ago, after the call from her employee, Oakley found herself on the side of the Limestone County road at midnight slowly coaxing a skittish dog to safety.

"She was skin and bones. Think about the dogs you see in the television commercial, that was what she looked like," Oakley said. "Honestly, I don't see how she wasn't dead already."

Oakley named the rescue Jasmine — the name of the dog on the cover of "The Lost Dogs," a book about the 51 pit bulls taken from Michael Vick's dogfighting operation.

"It has been six weeks and Jasmine is the sweetest little girl. She is just happy to be alive. That is why I do this day after day, night after night, so these animals who don't have a voice and can't take care of themselves have a chance," Oakley said.


Since opening Peace, Love & Animals in 2009, the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Cathy Oakley have adopted out more than 600 dogs and cats.


"Cathy is an awesome lady. She sleeps at most four hours a night because she puts her heart and soul into taking excellent care of all of the rescues," said Misti Cooper, a volunteer.


For the 54-year-old Oakley, the work is not a burden, it is a lifelong passion.


Nicknamed "Ellie Mae Clampett" as a girl, Oakley earned the moniker by following her grandfather, a veterinarian, around his Somerville farm where ducks, geese, dogs and cats roamed. For 30 years, while working as a hairdresser, Oakley's home served as an impromptu shelter.


"I'm the one who picked up animals off the side of the road. Any and all animals were welcome at my house. When I retired, my clients encouraged me to do something with animals," said Oakley, who also drives a school bus for students with autism and Down syndrome.


A year after opening Bark Avenue Pet Resort in 2008, Mike and Cathy Oakley transformed their vacant barn into the no-kill shelter.


They started by pulling dogs on "death row" from local pounds. As news of the Oakleys' mission spread, boxes of kittens and puppies began appearing on their porch.


"We're maxed out, just like all the shelters around us, because it is that time when puppies and kittens are weaned from their mothers and roaming around," Oakley said during a tour of the facility. "We have dogs in the bathroom, my office and even the laundry room."


Although officially a dog-only shelter, crates of cats appear when Oakley opens one of the shelter's doors.


"For being a dog-only shelter, we have 22 cats up for adoption," Oakley said. "It is just so hard for me to say no."


Being unable to say "no" resulted in hundreds of lives saved. But for every heart-warming story Oakley gets to tell, another, sadder, tale exists.


"We have had some dogs here since we opened five years ago. They are nice, sweet dogs, but they are big dogs and people tend to want the little, cute lap dogs," said Oakley. "We have several dogs who would be dead by now if we had not pulled them from shelters."


At full capacity, the nonprofit shelter, which operates solely on donations, is in need of funds. Along with regular operational expenses, the shelter encounters emergency medical costs, such as $1,500 mastectomies for two dogs diagnosed with breast cancer. Three months ago, Ginger, who Oakley nicknamed "the blanket eater," had a four-hour, $5,000 surgery to remove seven inches of her intestines.

"Ginger ate a blanket and it ripped her intestines. We almost lost her. After her first surgery, she had to go back in for more," Oakley said. "She made it and we love her."


Along with financial donations, the shelter needs volunteers to assist with laundry, bathing and feeding the dogs, washing dishes and cleaning up hair. Interested individuals can fill out an application at


"Volunteering is one of the hardest and one of the most rewarding things to do," said Cooper, who started volunteering after the 2011 tornadoes. "It breaks your heart to see the shape the animals are in, but it gets me teary-eyed when I see them adopted."


Peace, Love & Animals tests animals to see how they respond to other dogs, cats and children. Before releasing the animal, a member of the staff performs an at-home visit to ensure the dog responds favorably to the environment. The responsibility usually falls to Oakley, who has traveled as far away as Queens, New York, to deliver a dog.


"The shelter is our life. The last time my husband and I went out to dinner together was December 2012," Oakley said. "We agree it is worth it to save these dogs and see them have a forever home. Nothing is more rewarding."


Adoption fees are $150 for adult dogs and $165 for puppies.

Catherine Godbey can be reached at 256-340-2441 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow on Twitter @DecaturLiving.

Tips for adopting

Be open-minded: "The biggest mistake people make is saying, ‘I want a boxer because I had a boxer and she was the greatest dog in the world.' Yes, that boxer may have been great, but it was because it was that dog's personality. Not all boxers have the same personality," Oakley said.


Spend time with the dogs: Instead of limiting your options to male or female, long-haired or short-haired, small or big, spend time with the dogs to see how your personalities match.


Bring children and other animals: When adopting, bring along your children or other dogs or cats in the home to see how the animal reacts. "I had one woman come in set on small, calm dogs. The problem was, she had a very energetic Husky. All of the dogs she picked out didn't match. I, then, pointed out one dog she said she would have never chosen and it was a perfect match," Oakley said.


Consider your lifestyle: "When someone comes in, I sit down and talk to them. I find out their lifestyle. Are there any other pets in the home? Do they live in an apartment or have a fenced-in backyard? Are they active? I'm pretty good at matching my dogs with people because I know my dogs and I get to know the people," Oakley said.