The family of a little boy killed in a January fire is choosing to honor what would have been his 13th birthday by collecting donations for local animal organizations.
Hunter Denney-Wesley was a 6th grader at Science Hill Independent School. He passed away on January 20 in a fire.
Hunter had escaped the fire initially, but went back inside the burning building to try to save his dog, Pugley.
Pugley and three other family dogs also died in the fire.
Hunter's aunt, Tonya Wesley, remembered Hunter as a boy who loved all animals. Pugley was "his" dog, but he would help out with all of the family's other animals, she said.
"Everywhere he went, Pugley was with him," Tonya said.
"He was the sweetest, most goofy kid, always making us laugh. He was always there to help anyone when they needed it. He had the biggest heart. He was just a really good kid," she said.
Hunter would have been 13 years old on October 20.
The family will host a celebration this Saturday, October 12, at the Science Hill Nazarene Church from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
They are asking that guests bring donations to give to the Pulaski County Animal Shelter (located on Adopt Me Lane) or the Pulaski County Humane Society (located on Chris Way).
Donations can take the form of money, or items like dog and cat food, treats, collars, leashes, stuffed toys and chew toys, among other things.
Refreshments will be on hand. Guests will be able to stay, or they can drop things off if they prefer, she said.
"It's just going to be small. We just kind of want to get together," Tonya said of the gathering.
"It's going to be for anyone who knew and loved [Hunter], or anyone who has grown to love him through our posts since the tragedy."
She said the family has received a lot of assistance after Hunter's death.
"We've just been so grateful for everybody," she said.
"The outreach, support and love from our community, and from other states, during our tragedy in January far exceeded what we could have ever imagined. We are beyond thankful for every single prayer, hug, text, phone call, visit, donation, etc. People helped in ways that they don't even know," she said.
She added that she spoke on behalf of the entire family when she thanked everyone.
"I tear up every time I think about the love everyone has shown my brother, sister-in-law, my niece and the rest of our family.
"… We all miss Hunter so very much, as well as the furbabies: Pugley, Boomer, Gypsy and Sam. It's a pain that we won't ever heal from, but with the love and prayers from everyone and our faith in God we get by each day."