A homeless man who raced into a burning building saved the lives of 10 cats and six dogs — as well as an animal rescue program for at-risk youth.
On the afternoon of Dec. 18, an electrical fire sparked at the W-Underdogs facility in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the nonprofit’s signature programs, The Rescue Team, teaches at-risk kids about compassion and responsibility through rescuing and rehabilitating homeless dogs and cats.
Keith Walker, 53, has done odd jobs for W-Underdogs for several years and was heading there to walk his pit bull, Bravo. He’s been homeless since he was 13 years old, and the nonprofit frequently shelters his dog.
When Walker saw the flames, he urged another homeless man named Mike to call 911. Then he rushed inside and started pulling out animals as fast as he could.
He saved every single one, and they’re all perfectly fine, according to celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior and member of the advisory board of W-Underdogs.
“The act that he did was incredibly brave and he is a true hero,” Stilwell told TODAY. “He is the guardian angel that was watching over W-Underdogs.”
It’s fortunate the two homeless men arrived at the scene when they did because the organization’s founder happened to be on an outreach mission at the time.
“It could have been really bad,” she said. “If they hadn’t done that, the fire could have spread and we would have lost all our animals.”
But the story couldn’t have a happier ending. As luck would have it, another guardian angel had recently donated a new facility to W-Underdogs. Volunteers like Stilwell heard about the fire and showed up with vans, cars and even a donated truck to safely transport all the pets to the new building.
Donations have poured in to help Walker, and W-Underdogs is working to find the perfect homeless advocacy nonprofit to help him manage this new chapter.
In addition to teaching at-risk youth to rescue, care for and train pets for forever homes, W-Underdogs fosters empathy and leadership in young people with programs like planting trees, building dog houses and distributing pet food for those in need, and trap, neuter and return of community cats.
“We're not an animal rescue and we are not just a youth program; we're actually a youth program that empowers you through animal rescue and that's where the connection lies,” Stilwell explained.
She’s grateful to Walker for his heroism and filled with hope for what the new year might bring for everyone involved with W-Underdogs.
“We are excited about 2021 because we just looking forward to helping more people and more animals and hopefully getting through this pandemic,” she said. “We're just doing the best we can.”