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King University Freshman Helps Those without a Voice after Fires in Gatlinburg

BRISTOL, Tenn., February 8, 2017 – King University freshman and Bristol, Va., native Jerryn Puckett has always had a deep love for animals. After the recent fires that consumed much of the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge region, the call went out for volunteers to assist with the large numbers of displaced animals. Puckett knew she had to help.

“There were a lot of emotions going once I was at the [makeshift] shelter,” said Puckett. “There were animals you didn’t know their condition; they were scared, and many didn’t have homes. You weren’t sure if some had been dumped. There were people coming in distraught, showing pictures of their pets asking if we had seen them. During the few days I was there, two people were reunited with their dogs. That was just wonderful.”

Puckett has been actively volunteering with local animal shelters and helping local rescues for much of her life. On the last day of the fall semester during a meeting with her faculty advisor, Kelly Vaughan, PhD, assistant professor and chair of the Biology Department at King, told Puckett of the need for volunteers in Sevier County for displaced animals; Vaughan suggested she sign up. Puckett signed up that same day.

Megan Bamford, King’s acrobatics and tumbling head coach, said, “Jerryn, an acro & tumbling athlete, and band member for King, is a very selfless individual that would do anything for others, without expecting anything in return. She also has a huge soft spot for animals. Her goal after receiving her undergraduate degree [in Cellular and Molecular Biology with a History minor] at King is to go on to veterinary school and pursue a career as a vet. Over Christmas break, Jerryn took it upon herself to go help with the animals that were displaced after the tragedy that occurred in Gatlinburg. To her is was [like any other day], but I’m sure to those animals it meant so much to have someone there to care for them, even if it were only a [short time].”

The emotions were evident as Puckett spoke of her efforts with the animals during such a tragic circumstance. “I can’t really describe it,” she said. “There were so many dogs who were absolute sweethearts. You knew they had to have an owner out there somewhere. It leaves you wondering, what if these were the animals of those killed in the fires. Putting yourself in the animal’s mind - what if this was you? They were terrified.”

“Many times student-athletes only focus on their priorities being school and their particular sport of choice because those two things consume so much of their time,” said Bamford. “However, here at King, our University teaches our student-athletes how to go beyond the classroom and the gym (AKA their comfort zone), by encouraging them to go out into the community and do good unto others. Volunteer and service work helps humble these student-athletes by allowing them to learn how to give back, and not take advantage of the amazing perks that they have from our wonderful University and Athletic Department. I also think in doing volunteer and service work, it allows these [young people] to find something else besides sports they can be passionate about and can continue to do after they graduate or are no longer are involved in college athletics, which benefits someone other than themselves.”

Since returning to school, Puckett has followed the progress in Sevier County. “Many of the animals have been adopted out, which is wonderful.”

Puckett continues, whenever possible, to volunteer with local shelters. “I would take them all in if I could. Pets are your family, and some pets don’t have a family. They are miraculous - just owning one, being around one. There is something pure about an animal. Any way you can help, do. It will make a big difference.”


King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information about King University, visit King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information on SCHEV certification, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.