By Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An Atlanta Falcons rookie who played college football for South Carolina has paid a big chunk of the veterinary bill for a South Carolina TV sports director’s rescue dog.

Tight end Hayden Hurst footed $3,000 of the $5,000-plus bill for Wilbur, an Irish settler/golden retriever mix belonging to Mike Gillespie of WOLO-TV in Columbia. The dog needed surgery to remove a life-threatening intestinal blockage, according to the GoFundMe page created to help raise money for Wilbur’s care.

“Hopefully Wilbur and Hayden can meet someday, because honestly, he saved his life,” Gillespie, who adopted the abandoned dog four years ago, told The Post and Courier.

Gillespie said that when his girlfriend suggested an online fundraiser he was reluctant to tell people he couldn’t afford the emergency surgery for Wilbur. But they posted it Monday, it had reached $2,000 by 11 a.m. Tuesday, and then Hurst put in the rest.

Wilbur underwent surgery on Wednesday, Gillespie said.

He said he knew Hurst when the athlete was South Carolina’s battering-ram tight end from 2015-17, but the relationship was strictly reporter-athlete.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for us,” Gillespie tweeted to Hurst. “I have no idea how to repay you or what we did to deserve this, but we’re so thankful…especially Wilbur.”

Hurst replied, “No need. I know someone out there would do the same for me and my pups.”

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