An Atlanta homeless man risked his life to save all 16 of the dogs and cats inside a local animal shelter when it caught fire.
Keith Walker, 53, who is homeless, had been heading to W-Underdogs on the afternoon of December 18 to pick up his pitbull, Bravo, for a walk when he saw the fire, shelter founder Gracie Hamlin told CNN.
Walker - who boards his dog at the shelter at nights - then rushed into the burning building to rescue the six dogs and 10 cats trapped inside.
Hamlin said that the firefighters had 'called animal control, but Keith was already in the building pulling out the cats and dogs until they were all safe.'
Walker said he 'was nervous as hell' about his heroic act.
'I'm not going to lie,' he told the news outlet. 'I was really scared to go in there with all that smoke. But God put me there to save those animals.'
He added that: '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 called Walker her 'guardian angel.'
In a Facebook post, Army veteran Hamlin said that she had been out picking up supply donations when she received a call alerting her that the shelter, which is also her home, had caught on fire.
She wrote the fire department was able to stop the fire before it destroyed the whole building, but despite their quick work, the house was left 'uninhabitable.'
Fortunately, W-Underdogs was just one week away from being moved to a new facility space, so the animals had somewhere to go.
Hamlin said the the fire department determined the fire, which started in her kitchen, was an electrical fire.
More than a week after the fire, Hamlin told CNN that Walker's quick action to save the animals has left her 'still in disbelief, because I've been around a fire and I know how fast they flare up. He is my hero.'
As word of Walker's actions have spread, people have been quick to ask how they can help Walker and to set up fundraising efforts on his behalf.
One GoFundMe has already raised more than $16,000 for him.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, W-Underdogs noted that 'Mr. Walker is indeed our hero and proof that the hard work we do in the community is rewarded in so many different ways.'
Hamlin added that '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.'
She noted that 'We will also continue to provide food and medical care of his dog, Bravo' and that any money donated to the shelter 'goes back into supporting our community, including Keith and so many other deserving people and pets.'
Hamlin told CNN that she knew Walker - who has been homeless since he was 13 - prior to the fire, because she let him keep his dog at the shelter at night.
In response to a Facebook suggestion that Walker should be being allowed to sleep at the shelter, along with the dog, Hamlin said that the new shelter 'is not as convenient as where Keith prefers to stay' and that it is a commercial space, which isn't zoned for people to live in.
Hamlin added that 'We have made many offers to Keith over the years and he prefers to live his life of his own free will and we respect that and will continue to work with him on options.'
In addition to being an animal shelter, W-Underdogs, which has a two-person staff, is also a youth organization for children from Atlanta's most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Through the organization, kids are encouraged to help rescue, rehabilitate and find homes for hundreds of animals each year, while also helping to support families going through difficult times by offering food and shelter and basic veterinary care for their dogs.
The organization's motto is that they are 'your friendly neighborhood superheroes,' which Hamlin said in a Facebook post is how the kids in the program are seen in their community.
Hamlin wrote that 'Keith embodied the spirit of W-Underdogs when he saved our animals in their time of need. We value the relationship we have built with him this past year while helping him to care for his dog, and we will continue to work with Keith according to what his wishes are.'
She added: '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. This is the same credo we follow with all of the members in our community in which we serve, as we continue to work hard to build and maintain the bond of trust between us.'
Those looking to donate money or supplies to the shelter and youth organization are asked to visit the shelter's mission page.
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