Homeless man rushes in a shelter on fire to save the animals

When an Atlanta animal shelter went up in flames, it was a local homeless man who risked his life to make sure the cats and

An Atlanta, Georgia man named Keith Walker did something truly heroic on December 18, 2020. After seeing a fire, he rushed in to save lives.

The fire engulfed the kitchen at Atlanta’s W-Underdogs animal shelter, bound to spread to the rest of the building. Despite naturally being afraid for his safety, he put it all on the line to save the shelter’s 6 dogs and 10 cats.

Going the extra mile

Walker, who is now 53, has been homeless since the age of 13. He has little except his best friend, a pitbull named Bravo.

Gracie Hamlin, the founder of W-Underdogs, knows Walker because she allows him to house Bravo at the shelter at night (many homeless shelters don’t allow pets). He was on his way to pick up his pup when he saw the fire.

After 40 years of homelessness, no one could have blamed him for looking out for his own interests and saving only Bravo. But he rushed into the building multiple times until all of the animals were safe.

“I was nervous as hell, I’m not going to lie. I was really scared to go in there with all that smoke. But God put me there to save those animals,” Walker told CNN. “If you love a dog, you can love anyone in the world. My dog is my best friend, and I wouldn’t be here without him, so I knew I had to save all those other dogs.”

Save the animals

Hamlin told CNN that the firefighters on the scene were going to leave the animal rescue up to animal control. But Walker wasn’t about to wait for them to arrive, something Hamlin will be forever grateful for.

“He is my guardian angel,” she told CNN. “Even the firefighters didn’t want to handle the dogs. They called animal control, but Keith was already in the building pulling out the cats and dogs until they were all safe.”

She is still stunned by his bravery and generosity.

“I can’t thank him enough for saving my animals. I’m still in disbelief, because I’ve been around a fire and I know how fast they flare up. He is my hero.”

Calling it a “Christmas miracle,” people around the country are now wondering how they can help Walker as a show of appreciation for his selfless actions.

From the rubble

The shelter has been completely destroyed – but it could have been worse. It just so happens that the animals were only due to be housed there for one more week until they moved into a new location.

All of the cats and dogs are now safely in their new digs.

Walker, however, is still on the streets. But perhaps not for long.

In just 24 hours, a man named Frank Cote has raised over $16,000 from 541 people (of an original $5,000 goal) on GoFundMe to lend Walker a helping hand. And while it’s nearly impossible to confirm the legitimacy of such fundraisers, Cote has asked Hamlin to get in touch with him as he plans to deposit the money in an account for Walker and would like her help in making sure he can access it.

Respecting wishes

On December 27th, W-Underdogs posted an update on Facebook, thanking everyone for the outpouring of support for both the shelter and for Walker. They also reminded people that they’re more than just a shelter:

“W-Underdogs is not only a shelter but a youth organization that empowers children in Atlanta’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to make a difference in their community. Our youth take part in rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding homes for hundreds of animals each year.”

They also delivered an important message for those who want to be heroes to Keith Walker.

“…we will continue to work with Keith according to what his wishes are. While we are certainly appreciative of the outpouring of recognition for his selfless deed, it is also important to respect his perspective on what he may feel he does or does not want in terms of help.”

In an earlier post, they were clear that he was in charge of how things would pan out.

“We are in contact with Keith and working to assess his needs and wants. He is not currently accepting offers of help but we will continue to stay in touch with him and share as much as he will allow.”

Walker’s story is a good example of the complexity of homelessness and the need to respect the dignity of those experiencing it.

People on Facebook are relentlessly offering unsolicited advice on how he should respond to their offers of help, but he remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to his own future.

You can donate to W-Underdogs by clicking here.

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Victoria Do

Victoria Do is a contributor at Jackie Inc.

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