Neighborhood Heroes is a new series from Ring that highlights the extraordinary impact ordinary people have on their neighborhoods, helping make them safer and better places for everyone. We last brought you to Koreatown, Los Angeles. Our next stop is across the country in Wyandanch, New York, where Almost Home Animal Rescue & Adoption takes a novel approach to solving animal mistreatment in their community — starting with direct outreach on the ground, one family at a time.
Animals who aren’t receiving proper care are oftentimes removed from their homes and placed in overcrowded shelters. But the team at Almost Home takes a different approach: The organization’s volunteers put boots on the ground, going door to door to support pet owners, supply them with resources and educate them about how best to care for their animals.
Linda Klampfl, Almost Home’s founder and president, says the difference comes down to lending a neighborly ear and helping hand to those who may not have received such kindness before.
“Almost Home is unique in that we take the time to work with the families,” says Linda. “A lot of the shelters that you contact, they just say, ‘No, we can’t help you.’ We talk to the families. Perhaps they want to give up their dog because they don’t have money to feed them — we’ll provide them with food. [Or they] want to surrender a dog because it keeps getting pregnant. All we have to do is spay it, and [then] it stays in the home.”
As part of the Training Wheels program, more than 40 volunteers, like Ashley Buroker, regularly go out into the community to provide food, supplies, spay/neuter services, pet care tips and other resources to pet owners. They believe that by helping each individual pet and its family, they are improving the neighborhood as a whole. In Wyandanch alone, Training Wheels services about 500 animals and 175 families each month.
“When we began the program…dog fighting was a huge issue, breeding was a huge issue, and it was a lot to tackle,” says Ashley, who started volunteering with Almost Home more than 10 years ago. She first learned about the group when she adopted her own beloved dog Lily from them.
Ashley remembers a Wyandanch with many dogs chained outside around the clock and injured from fights, along with community members who were often skeptical of Almost Home’s efforts.
“Spay and neuter was unheard of; it was almost a dirty thing to say,” she explains. “But through building relationships with the community, they started to come to understand that we just wanted to help them, and we really care for the people there and for the pets. And if we could facilitate a bond between those owners and their animals…really positive things can come from it.”
Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Next Generation of Pet Owners
Almost Home didn’t stop there. They wanted to have an even greater, lasting impact, so they turned to the younger generation.
As Ashley says, “The best way to transform a community is to start with the youth through humane education.”
So Ashley and her fellow volunteers created educational programs for Wyandanch schools to teach kids about kind treatment of animals, the importance of establishing healthy pet ownership habits early and the assortment of resources available to them if they decide to own pets.
Ashley believes that humane education is key to achieving meaningful change because “it really breaks the cycle of neglect and abuse,” she says. “I can’t express how truly important that is in our communities. And also legislation, strengthening our animal cruelty laws. That’s really vital.”
Spreading Change Beyond One Neighborhood
The next step for Almost Home was to take their message outside of the Wyandanch community. They brought large posters of neglected and abused animals to local legislative meetings, and they approached New York State Senator Monica Martinez, hoping to work with her to change laws in Wyandanch’s Suffolk County.
“We went to every legislative meeting, we brought posters, we brought chains, we told stories, we had a protest,” Linda recalls. “We stood in front of the Suffolk County legislature and said: ‘This is a very big problem that has to be addressed.’”
Their message was convincing. Sen. Martinez, an animal lover who originally majored in veterinary medicine, agreed that once families take better care of their pets, safer neighborhoods follow. “We looked at the existing law, and we strengthened it,” she says.
The new law includes multiple changes to better protect animals. Choke collars aren’t allowed, nor are excessively heavy collars. Leashes must have swivels to allow an animal to move. Dogs can be tethered outside for only one hour in a 12-hour period, and they can’t be tethered at night. In strong weather conditions, including temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees, dogs and cats must be kept inside. And they must always have shelter, water and food.
“Pardon the pun, but it gave our law enforcement teeth for extra biting,” Sen. Martinez says. It also created tools for systemic change beyond what Almost Home could achieve on the community level.
They’re tools that Linda and her team of volunteers now bring back to the community to continue spreading that positive change.
“When we first started this program, every dog was chained, [no dogs were] spayed or neutered. There were puppies everywhere,” Linda says. “Now it’s gotten much better; you don’t find litters of puppies like you used to. Yes, they’re still out there, and yes, we still run into families that have their dogs chained — but they’re educated that this is the law and we work with them to improve the living situation of the dog.”
No matter how much progress Almost Home achieves, Linda has no intention of slowing down. In fact, she’s committed to keep going until she can literally put herself out of work. “We don’t want to be needed. That would be our goal: that we’re not needed any more,” she concludes.
We are proud to feature Linda, Ashley and all of the Almost Home volunteers as Neighborhood Heroes in Wyandanch, New York. They prove ordinary people can create real, positive change in their communities.
Real neighbors. Real neighborhoods. Real change. If you know a Neighborhood Hero in your community whom we should feature, reach out to us at email@example.com.