Veterinarian Amber Burton’s phone kept ringing this weekend.
Donation notification after notification flooded in steadily.
“An extremely talented man and role model gone way too soon,” wrote one donor to Wolf Trap Animal Rescue, which Burton founded and now directs.
“Dwayne was always a ray of sunshine who’s (sic) smile could light up a room,” wrote another. “RIP. O-H!”
The messages, and financial support for the Northern Virginia animal rescue and adoption agency, continue to stream in. By late Tuesday afternoon, 299 donors had pitched in to net $6,491.54 for the nonprofit, according to data Burton shared with USA TODAY Sports. The influx was roughly 430% the typical donation intake across the period.
The donors’ intentions, through their tribute notes and symbolic donation amounts, are clear: They want to honor the life of NFL quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Haskins died Saturday morning after he was hit by a dump truck while crossing a Florida highway by foot. He was 24 years old. The 15th overall selection of the 2019 NFL draft was in Florida working out with teammates from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who signed Haskins in January 2021 after Washington released him.
During his NFL career, Haskins played in 16 games, starting 13 for Washington, completing 60.1% of passes for 2,804 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed 40 times for 147 yards and a touchdown.
When news of the tragedy broke Saturday, NFL fans across social media wondered: How could they honor Haskins’ life in his death? What positivity could they create from this stunning reality? They turned to Google and then to social media platforms.
Before long, users on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit were encouraging donations to Wolf Trap Animal Rescue (WTAR), the beneficiary Haskins had chosen to support in 2019 through the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative. His dogs “make my day brighter,” a then-rookie Haskins said. “A lot of dogs need homes and being able to have a dog and a companion in your life will definitely bring some happiness to you.”
Haskins designed blue-green cleats with the organization logo and a sketch of his 2-year-old Dobermann, Roscoe, for the occasion, the team said.
WTAR rescues high-risk animals from euthanasia, neglect and abuse, primarily from overpopulated areas in Mississippi. Since its May 2015 inception, staffers have rescued, treated and found adoption homes for more than 11,500 animals, including more than 9,000 dogs and puppies. The group also partnered with Washington’s NFL team to provide puppy therapy in 2019, after which Haskins and then-Washington defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis selected WTAR as their cleat beneficiaries. Washington safety Troy Apke has continued to work with the organization, even adopting a rescued dog from them.
Still, this weekend’s influx of donations felt different. NFL fans donating flocked from Haskins’ most recent team, the Pittsburgh Steelers– “I was rooting for you as a starter” – the Baltimore Ravens – “this is bigger than football” – and the philanthropically leaning Buffalo Bills fan base, at least 30 of whom donated after galvanization efforts including on the Bills forum on Reddit.
Fans of Ohio State, for whom Haskins threw 54 touchdowns to nine interceptions in two seasons, pitched in as well.
“May he be remembered both for his on the field and off the field heroics,” wrote one donor, as another thanked Haskins for “being the best you could be for your fans. RIP, you will be missed.”
Burton and her colleagues appreciated the donations, many of which reflected multiples of 7 and 3, his jersey numbers at Ohio State, Washington and Pittsburgh. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the still-arriving donations could have funded 64 pets’ spay and neuter procedures, 259 life-saving essential vaccines, or 649 pets’ worth of food in foster care, according to the organization’s funding structure.
The $6,491.54 dwarfed usual donations, which Burton estimates at $10-15 in a typical corresponding period. One donor wrote that they hoped the funds can “help the work that (Haskins) cared about in honor of his life.”
The funds will, Burton said.
“Rescue organizations can only operate based on donations that come in and we can only save as many animals as we have supporters for,” she said. “It means a lot and speaks volumes of the person who they are and how giving and caring they are and supportive of their local community. When someone like Dwayne or Troy or any of these NFL players get involved, it shows the depth of their character.
“That’s something we won’t ever forget.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.