Heroes don’t always wear capes and angles don’t always have wings. Don’t believe me? Then meet Keith Walker, a 53-year-old homeless man who risked his life to save every animal from inside a burning shelter. Walker has been living on the streets since he was 13. But while he doesn’t have a home, he has a best friend – his dog, Bravo. He knows, probably better than many of us do, exactly how much a dog can change your life. So when he saw a shelter go up in flames, he knew exactly what he had to do. Most of us wouldn’t do the same. No matter how much we love our own pets, few of us would be prepared to put our lives on the line for a bunch of unwanted strays and rescues. But Walker is clearly made of different stuff. This is the story of how he saved sixteen animals from the flames and became a hero in the process.
A Man’s Best Friend
For the past 40 years, Keith Walker has been living on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a tough existence but the one thing that gets him through more than anything else is the love and companionship of his dog, a pit bull named Bravo. “Hey, I love my dog and my dog’s my best friend, for real,” he tells Fox 5. “If God wakes me up and I got my dog, I’m good.” Keen to keep his best friend safe and warm through the cold winter nights, Walker got into conversation with the staff at W-Underdogs in Atlanta. The shelter kindly offered to let Bravo sleep there overnight throughout the winter. As iheartdogs.com (iheartdogs.com/homeless-man-saves-every-animal-in-burning-shelter/) reports, they even helped out by providing dog food for the duo.
Confronting His Fear
On the night of December 18, 2020, Walker was walking past W-Underdogs with Bravo. Glancing across at the shelter, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks. The building was on fire. Within seconds, flames were engulfing the shelter and smoke was pouring out into the cold air outside. Walker didn’t hesitate. Although he later admitted to being ‘nervous as hell,’ he knew exactly what he had to do. “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,” he’s said.
Despite being scared of facing the flames, he rushed into the burning building. Choking on the smoke, he started to pull out each and every one of the animals. As the Washington Examiner reports, Walker rescued ten cats and six dogs from the inferno in total. Thanks to his efforts, not a single shelter animal lost its life that night. “I was really scared to go in there with all that smoke — but God put me there to save those animals,” he’s said.
After the fire was finally extinguished, firefighters traced it to an electrical fault in the kitchen. Although the property was still standing, it was inhabitable. Thankfully, the shelter was already well into the process of moving to a new location prior to the fire starting. Although the new premises wasn’t quite ready, it was a much better proposition than returning to the old, fire-damaged property. All the shelter’s staff and volunteers pulled together to prepare for the move. Within next to no time, they’d made the new premises ready to comfortably accommodate the shelter’s 16 cats and dogs.
Selflessly rescuing 16 animals from a burning house isn’t the kind of thing that goes unnoticed. Once word of Walker’s actions got out, he quickly became something of a local celebrity. First came the local press, then came the nationals. Soon, Walker was being called a hero and a guardian angel by everyone from Fox to CNN. Of all the people praising him, no one is quite so grateful as W-Underdogs founder Grace Hamlin. “He is my guardian angel,” she tells the New York Post. “Even the firefighters didn’t want to handle the animals. They called animal control, but Keith was already in the building pulling out the cats and dogs until they were all safe.”
Hamlin had always been happy enough for Walker to keep Bravo at the shelter overnight, but little did she realize that her kindness would one day be repaid in such a spectacular way. Had Hamlin not let Bravo sleep at the shelter, Walker wouldn’t have been walking past W-Underdogs that fateful night. And had he not, the lives of 16 animals would have been lost. “I can’t thank him enough for saving the animals,” Hamlin says. “I’m still in disbelief, because I’ve been around a fire and I know how fast they flare-up. He’s a hero.”
To display her thanks, Hamlin posted a heartfelt message on the shelter’s Instagram feed. It let everyone know just how much Walker’s response had changed the outcome of what could otherwise have been a terrible moment in the shelter’s history. “Tonight we thank our guardian angels,” the message read. “The homeless man that ran into our burning house and rescued our animals. The fire department and @fultonanimalservices officers MJ and Joan for quick action. Our animals are safe and thanks to the incredible response from the community, everyone is settled and safe warm and secure.”
Hamlin plans on doing much more than just extending her thanks to Walker verbally. Determined to show him how much his actions have meant to her, the animals of the shelter, and the community, she’s launched a Go Fund Me campaign in his name. Although neither she nor the shelter can offer Walker a place to live or a job, they’re determined to do as much as possible to support him and Bravo. With any luck, they’ll be able to give the duo the fresh start in life they deserve. The response to the fundraiser has been overwhelming. In just a few short weeks, it’s already raised $35,000. But so far, Walker has been reluctant to take up the support.
“He is refusing all offers of help but we are determined,” Hamlin has written on an update to the GoFundMe campaign. “He is a vital part of our community and we will continue to work with him so he is appropriately rewarded for his selfless efforts.” Whether Walker accepts the offer of support or not, one thing’s for clear. Bravo must be feeling very proud of his owner these days.