They say it takes a village to raise a child. “Annie Oakleigh” has Cheryl Shifflet, and the help of an entire city.

Cheryl Shifflet had heard her neighbors and other residents of the Oakleigh Garden District talk about Annie. They saw the black mouth cur/hound mix roaming the neighborhood late at night, as most stray animals do. Being the animal lover she is, Cheryl waited up one night and followed Annie as she made her rounds.

Eventually, she followed Annie home and pulled into the driveway with her headlights off. Annie crawled underneath an old shed she was using for shelter and settled in. You could barely see her, or her seven puppies.

“I started to leave food for her every night,” Shifflet said. “I would come back during the day and do the same. She wasn’t very friendly, but I was persistent. I always had mace and a stick, just in case. You never know what an animal may have been through.”

“I stuck to my routine,” she added.

As Cheryl continued to bring food, she started to sit in a lawn chair and just chill around Annie, always at a safe distance, but maintaining a presence. Over the course of the 4-5 weeks she spent with Annie, the mother of seven began to trust Cheryl, enough so that she allowed her to move her and her puppies into the Shifflet household.

When Cheryl saw how active the puppies were becoming she knew it was time to move them. Having knowledge of animal behavior techniques, she put a kennel on the property a few days prior so Annie could get used to it. After about three days Annie went in the kennel and let Cheryl shut the cage. Then, she moved the puppies into a separate kennel and hauled them both back to her house. But one puppy didn’t make it.

“One of the puppies wouldn’t come out from underneath the shed, so I let Annie out to go get it,” Cheryl said. “But she brought out the dead puppy and showed it to me. That’s when things changed for Annie and I. We were connected.”

Throughout the course of this saga Cheryl posted updates to Facebook. The word slowly spread and the number of supporters increased steadily. But, no one could have guessed, not even Shifflet, the amount of support a few puppy pictures would bring.

“I posted a picture of the puppies and my friend Sally Trufant (owner of B&B Pet Stop) made a comment that she would give a $25 gift card to B&B to each person who adopts one of Annie’s puppies,” Shifflet said. “After that it spread like wildfire.”

Businesses started offering incentives to people who adopt one of Annie’s puppies and Annie herself. Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, where Shifflet works as a bartender and server, is offering a Callaghan’s dog collar and yappy hour dog bowl for each pup. Heroes Sports Bar and Grille/Royal Scam is offering a $15 gift card for each puppy adopter and $25 for Annie. Local artist Tom Andrews is giving an 8×10 or 5×7 matted picture from his current stock to each adopter. Blankenship Hardware is giving a $10 gift card to each puppy and $40 for Annie. There are just too many to name, honestly.

“Cheryl’s efforts with this stray mama and her pups was inspiring,” David Rasp, owner and operator of both Heroes and Royal Scam, said. “When I saw the need to support this effort, the idea to offer an incentive to adopt these pups just came about naturally.”

“The amount of support from the community has been amazing,” Shifflet said. “People are pulling for Annie. Strangers are pulling for her.”

Perhaps the most significant donation came from Dr. Jeni Knizley, though.

Knizley, who is a veterinarian with South Alabama Spay and Neuter, is offering to spay/neuter each pup and Annie free of charge once adopted. Both Knizley and Cheryl believe spay/neutering plays a huge role in preventing situations like Annie’s from happening and something the public should be aware of.

“If people would spay and neuter their own pets it would drastically decrease the number of stray animals on the streets and in the shelters,” Knizley said. “It would help eliminate euthanasia, too.”

As Mobile businesses continue to offer their support, individuals are also offering their own kind of support – emotional.

“Cheryl didn’t take the easy route,” Trufant said. “She could have, but she wanted to set an example that if she could do it, as a citizen, than others can as well. I am very proud of her and what she is doing.”

Knizley echoed Trufant in commending Cheryl’s persistence and said this story wouldn’t have the same response if she might have just taken them to animal rescue. “I’m thrilled she took it to this level,” Knizley said. “This rally is because of Cheryl.”

Raising these pups has been both physically and emotionally taxing on Cheryl, but she has been able to push on thanks to her community.

“All of the support has driven me,” Cheryl said. “So many people have pitched in, whether it’s been food, money, services or just moral support.”

When all is said and done, Cheryl really just wants each pup and their mom to find loving and caring homes.

At press time, all but one of Annie’s pups, currently named Zhu Zhu, had been adopted, and Annie is still in need of a forever home. If you are interested in adopting her or her pup, please email Cheryl at cherylshifflet@yahoo.com.