A homeless man put his life on the line to save numerous cats and dogs stranded inside an Atlanta, Ga., animal shelter when it caught fire.

Fifty-year-old Keith Walker rushed into the burning W-Underdogs shelter on Dec. 18 after the facility’s kitchen caught fire.

“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 said to 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.”

Even though the shelter was not entirely burned to the ground, the fire department declared it uninhabitable after the fire damage, W-Underdogs founder Gracie Hamlin reported.

The silver lining for the shelter is that W-Underdogs had already started the process of moving to another location in Atlanta. As of Monday they have relocated all the animals to the new location.

“He is my guardian angel,” Hamlin said to 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.”

Hamlin was familiar with Walker, who is said to have been on the streets since he was just 13 years old, because she allows him to keep his pit bull named Bravo at the shelter during the night.

Walker was about to collect Bravo from the shelter and take him for a walk when he noticed the building was on fire.

Walker ran inside and was able to rescue ten cats and six dogs from the blaze. Those were all of the animals housed in the shelter at the time.

“I can’t thank him enough for saving my animals,” Hamlin expressed. “I’m still in disbelief because I’ve been around a fire, and I know how fast they flare up. He is my hero.”

On Sunday afternoon, W-Underdogs posted a statement on its Facebook page:

“In light of recent events, we would like to thank everyone for the support and concern shown to W-Underdogs, and to Keith Walker, the man who bravely saved our animals from the fire. 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. They also reach out to support families affected by these difficult times with food and shelter and basic veterinary care for their dogs. Our motto is ‘your friendly neighborhood superheroes’ and that is how the kids in the program are seen in their community. 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. 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.” 

The statement went on to say:

“This past year, due to COVID and considerations of safety, we have had to scale back on the involvement of our youth in the programs. At the same time, the number of displaced animals has only increased due to the hardships many families now find themselves in. Although we are operating on a shoestring budget with just a two-person staff, we are plentiful in grit and determination. The kids of the W-Underdogs believe in us wholeheartedly, and for their sake, we will not give up.”

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