Veterinarian Amber Burton’s phone kept ringing this weekend.
Donation notification after notification constantly flooded.
“A hugely talented individual and role model gone too soon,” wrote one donor to Wolf Trap Animal Rescue, which Burton founded and now directs.
“Dwayne was always the ray of sunshine whose (sic) smile could light up a room,” wrote another. “Tear. Oh!”
The messaging and financial support for the Northern Virginia Animal Rescue and Adoption Agency is ongoing, according to data shared by Burton with USA Today Sports. The inflow during this period was about 430% of the normal donation intake.
The intentions of the donors, 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 being hit by a dump truck while crossing a Florida highway on foot. He was 24 years old. The 15th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft was working in Florida with Pittsburgh Steelers teammates who signed Haskins after Washington was released in January 2021.
During his NFL career, Haskins played 16 games, starting 13 for Washington, completing 60.1% of passes for 2,804 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He ran 40 times for 147 yards and a touchdown.
When news of the tragedy broke on Saturday, NFL fans on social media wondered: How can they honor Haskins’ life in his death? What positivity can they create from this astonishing reality? He turned to Google and then to social media platforms.
Not long ago, 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. Her dogs “make my day brighter,” said Haskins, a then-rookie. “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.”
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The team said Haskins designed blue-green cleats with the organization’s logo and a sketch of his 2-year-old Doberman, Roscoe, for the occasion.
WTAR protects high-risk animals from euthanasia, neglect, and abuse, primarily from overpopulated areas in Mississippi. Since its May 2015 inception, employees have rescued, treated and found adoption homes for more than 11,500 animals, including more than 9,000 dogs and puppies. The group partnered with Washington’s NFL team to provide puppy therapy in 2019, after Haskins and then-Washington defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis selected WTAR as their cleat beneficiaries. Washington safety Troy Epke continues to work with the organization, even adopting a dog rescued from them.
Still, this weekend’s influx of donations felt different. Haskins’ most recent team, the Pittsburgh Steelers—”I rooted for you as a starter”—the Baltimore Ravens—”It’s bigger than football”—and NFL fans donating from the philanthropically-leaning Buffalo Bills fan base, At least 30 of which were donated to following galvanization efforts, including the Bills Forum on Reddit.
Ohio State fans, for whom Haskins threw 54 touchdowns for nine interceptions in two seasons, pitched in as well.
“He may be remembered for his heroism both on and off the field,” wrote one donor, another thanking Haskins that “you can be the best you can be to your fans. RIP, you will be missed.” .
Burton and his colleagues applauded the donations, many of which feature multiples of their jersey numbers 7 and 3 in Ohio State, Washington and Pittsburgh. According to the organization’s funding structure, as of Tuesday afternoon, donations still to come could include 64 pet castrations and neuter procedures, 259 life-saving essential vaccines, or 649 pets’ worth of food.
$6,491.54 dwarfs the typical donation, which Burton estimates is $10–15 over the same period. One donor wrote that he hoped the money “could help the work that (Haskins) cared about in honor of his life.”
Funds will be there, Burton said.
“Rescue organizations can only work on a donation basis and we can only save as many animals as we have supporters for,” she said. “It matters a lot and speaks volumes to the person they are and how they are giving and caring and supporting their local community. When a Dwayne or Troy or any of these NFL players are involved , so it shows the depth of his character.
“It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Follow USA Today Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @Jori Epstein,