An Atlanta, Georgia animal shelter had a run of bad luck in December of 2020. But they also have a hero on their hands – and it’s someone they’ve long known and lent a hand.
On December 18, 2020, Keith Walker paid back the kindness – and then some! – by rescuing the facility’s 6 dogs and 10 cats from a fire.
A hero to the rescue
Atlanta’s W-Underdogs has also been hosting an overnight guest for quite some time – Walker’s pit bull Bravo.
Since Walker is homeless – and has been for nearly 40 years – he can’t take the dog to homeless shelters. Volunteers feed Bravo and keep him safe and Walker comes to get the pup each morning.
But on that fateful day, he saw flames coming out of the kitchen and he leaped into action – not just for his own animal, but all of them.
Gracie Hamlin, the founder of W-Underdogs, said the 53-year-old man rushed into the building multiple times until all of the furry residents 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.”
Hamlin told CNN that firefighters arrived on the scene but had their hands full and were going to wait for animal control to show up and deal with the cats and dogs.
She’s forever grateful that Walker was there to help.
“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.”
He may have had a healthy fear of the fire, but Hamlin is still stunned that Walker overcame it to save the animals.
“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 who heard the story wanted to reward Walker as a show of appreciation for his selfless actions. They even requested that the shelter hire and house him (which is not possible because of zoning, although he has long been offered odd jobs).
In the nick of time
The shelter was getting ready to move into a new facility, so things could have been worse. But they still had to pack up and move and their plans now had to take place in double time.
And to top it off, they announced that supplies they were storing at the old facility had been stolen on New Year’s Eve.
Most importantly, all of the cats and dogs are now safely in their new digs.
Volunteers helped with the clean up and fundraiser to get the shelter resettled.
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.”
Respect and dignity
Walker, however, is still on the streets. But that’s a more complicated situation.
While a man named Frank Cote has raised over $82,000 (of an original $5,000 goal) on GoFundMe to lend Walker a helping hand, it’s unclear how the money will be used. Walker didn’t want the money at first. Now it may do more harm than good – something Cote has accepted and posted about recently:
“Our hope is, that if we do this right, that we might create an opportunity to assist Mr. Walker in a way that not only provides financial assistance, but mental health and substance abuse assistance as well.
This cannot be a situation where Mr. Walker suddenly has access to tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
That we believe would turn out badly.
We are not naive, there is no easy road here, but there is a path to something better and we are hopeful, that this path can lead to a road of possibility and not just another dead end.
We must try.”
The shelter also promised to keep working with Cote and Walker, but said Walker’s wishes would come first.
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.”
Once the donations reached the 5-figures (which they did in under a day), Hamlin and her staff said they would do what they could to help.
“…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.”
Walker’s story is a good example of the complexity of homelessness and the need to respect the dignity of those experiencing it. That, and the fact that you cannot simply throw money at a problem and expect to solve it.
You can, however, donate to W-Underdogs by clicking here.
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