Man Rescues 16 Pets From Burning Building

Keith Walker saved a community group's 10 dogs and six cats from an Atlanta fire.

W-Underdogs founder Gracie Hamlin, Keith Walker, and his dog Bravo.
W-Underdogs founder Gracie Hamlin, Keith Walker, and his dog Bravo.

W-Underdogs

Ten cats and six dogs are safe thanks to the quick thinking of Keith Walker, a homeless man in Atlanta who saw a home burning and darted in to help save them. Part of a community outreach program named W-Underdogs, the pets were just days away from moving into a donated facility.

Walker often keeps his pit bull named Bravo with the group and has known the group’s founder, Grace Hamlin, for years. 

When Walker saw the fire, he was able to find a friend to call the fire department, and then Walker got in through the doors and started saving the dogs and cats.

“He’s our guardian angel,” dog trainer and TV host Victoria Stilwell tells Treehugger. Stilwell is an advisory board member for W-Underdogs.

“They wouldn’t have survived without him," she says. "It was an old house and the damage was extensive. If he hadn't seen the smoke, there’s no doubt those animals wouldn’t have survived.” 

W-Underdogs (pronounced “wonderdogs”) is a community group that “helps empower youth through empathy and learning skills,” Stilwell says. “Kids save dogs and dogs save kids.”

Founded about six years ago, volunteers work with kids in different areas in South Atlanta and in other parts of Georgia. They teach them how to care for and train dogs and cats. They learn teamwork as a group on projects such as building dog houses for less fortunate families, working on trap/neuter/spay/return programs for feral cats, and helping socialize animals to prepare them for new homes.

They also deliver dog food to people who can’t always afford to buy it, take in abandoned pets, help in cruelty cases, and provide shelter at times for animals like Bravo, Walker’s dog.

Walker, 53, has been homeless for 40 years, Stilwell says.

“Dogs are his life. Because of challenges he faces being homeless, sometimes he needs our help,” she says.

The Community Reaches Out to Help

Keith Walker with dog
Keith Walker with Rider, one of the dogs from the program.

W-Underdogs

Walker helps the group with odd jobs, but since news of his brave rescue has surfaced, the group has been swamped with messages about how they can help. Go Fund Me accounts have been set up for Walker and for W-Underdogs, which lost so much in the fire. 

“Rest assured we have Mr. Walker’s best interests at heart, and are exploring how to best manage donations that have come in on his behalf. Please understand that the issues surrounding Mr. Walker’s homelessness are complex, and we need to proceed with care. Toward this end, we will be seeking an organization experienced in working with homeless and vulnerable populations to be his advocate and ensure that his needs, wishes, safety and well-being are taken into account. This will take some time, as we are currently stretched to the limit resource-wise and are still operating in crisis mode,” Hamlin posted on Facebook.

Two weeks before the fire, a benefactor donated a center for the groups, so the rescued animals are now safely relocated there, Stilwell says.

“They’re all safe and lots of volunteers are walking them and loving them,” she says.

“We’re a small but mighty organization. We do the work in communities that is very tough and not a lot of people want to do it but it's very rewarding. Grace is a true hero in the work that she does every day. But people have been so unbelievably generous with their time and donating blankets and helping us with W-underdogs.” 

Dozens of people commented on the Facebook post, but one summed everything up so well:

"THANK YOU for what you do. I read about Keith’s heroism and it was possibly the best story of 2020 for me. We all have problems, troubles, difficulties fitting in. But the pure goodness of this man is undeniable. Animals and people NEED people like him to simply exist because their love matters. I am so happy to see donations to Mr. Walker are being managed. I will donate to y’all as soon as I am able. Thank you for adding to the light in the world."