Grace Hamlin has been through a lot in her life. Adopted at a young age, she moved to America to be with her adoptive family. She was in the Army for several years and then when she moved to Atlanta she got into a major accident that left her injured.
As she told Mike Rowe in her episode of “Returning the Favor“, the neighborhood she landed in was a little rough, but it wasn’t until she saw a group of adults urging young children to fight at a local park that she understood the extent of the issue.
So she took her love for animals, her concern for children, her experience growing up in poverty and then being adopted, and her military training and created W-Underdogs.
W-Underdogs addresses two major needs in Hamlin’s community by pairing at-risk children with rescue dogs. The organization helps dogs get off the street and into loving homes and helps keep kids off the street and involved in the development of lifelong skills.
Hamlin gives it her all, and has provided a sanctuary for kids and dogs to experience responsibility and unconditional love — but that was almost lost in December when a fire broke out at her home and the location of the organization.
Thankfully, a homeless man named Keith Walker was in the right place at the right time and managed to save the animals on site.
Walker, 53, has been homeless since he was 13. He’s no stranger to the streets, but has his trusty four-legged companion, Bravo, to keep him company. He’s done odd jobs for W-Underdogs, and has an arrangement with Hamlin that allows him to keep Bravo in her kennels.
He was visiting to take Bravo for a walk on Dec. 18 when he noticed the fire.
“Tonight we thank our guardian angels,” W-Underdogs posted. “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. We just wanted to say THANK YOU to all our friends and volunteers for coming to our immediate aide. We will need you in the next couple days and weeks as we recover. But we are in your good hands… we definitely have angels among us. We are all safe. @ginnymillner @victoriastilwell for always being there for us.”
“I was nervous as hell, I’m not going to lie,” Walker told CNN. “I was really scared to go in there with all that smoke. But God put me there to save those animals. 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.”
Walker managed to rescue the 10 cats and six dogs on the premises. Firefighters were able to stop the fire — which was determined to have started in the kitchen and was electrical in nature — before it destroyed the whole building, but the house is currently uninhabitable.
The timing wasn’t all that bad, though, as W-Underdogs was poised to move to a new location and the lease on the new property and building began the day after the fire broke out at the old location.
“While the new facility is not exactly ‘move-in ready’ we were able to move the animals safely into the new facility for the night,” the organization posted. “They are all happy, warm, safe, and comfortable in their new temporary home.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help W-Underdogs and to replenish the donations and supplies lost in the fire.
People have also started a GoFundMe to thank Walker, and many have suggested that W-Underdogs give him a full-time job. However, because it’s a youth organization, Hamlin has explained in a Facebook post that “there are constraints on the kinds of jobs we are able to offer him,” but “in the end, we will do our best to ensure that Mr. Walker is cared for, always with consideration and respect as to how much help he wishes to receive.”
Still, the fundraiser started with a $5,000 goal and has secured over $40,000 for the hero so far, and W-Underdogs will continue to offer shelter and food to Bravo, should Walker need it.
“He is my guardian angel,” Hamlin told 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.”
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