A dog is a friend to all.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deportation officer Thomas Szwed knows this to be true.
When he is not working on his ERO field operations team, Szwed and his beloved German shepherd, Nitro, are volunteers for the Erie County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Paws for Love program in Buffalo, New York.
Paws for Love is volunteer-run and operated. Pet owners take their gentle dogs and cats to different venues such as nursing and assisted living homes, hospices, hospitals, schools, colleges, airports and funeral parlors. The mission of owners and pets is to alleviate sadness and stress in their human friends with a simple pet visit. The Erie County Paws for Love program is so popular there is a waiting list of facilities.
Nitro and Szwed experience many rewarding interactions while volunteering: “We had a longtime catatonic resident at a nursing home spontaneously clap and whistle when he saw Nitro come to him,” said Szwed, “and many others tell me stories of family pets they have had in the past.”
The Buffalo/Niagara International Airport may not seem like a logical place for a pet visit, but Szwed said Nitro is able to alleviate travel stress in airport staff and travelers. “Calming children is one of Nitro’s favorite things to do,” he said, “he is very alert when hearing unsettled children and will even gently pull me to get to them quickly.”
The duo became involved with the Paws for Love program to raise public awareness of the SPCA and the German shepherd breed. Szwed says that many people are surprised that a German shepherd can be a stress-therapy dog, “People comment that they think they are for ‘police or military’ use.’” He lets people know that almost any dog can be a therapy dog if they are socialized as a puppy, and learn basic obedience and community interaction.
He said, “These traits make a dog a well-rounded canine citizen.”
Nitro is the consummate professional when on the job. He is always calm and composed around other dogs and children. He is also popular with his own Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Nitro has that something special when it comes to making humans feel better says Szwed, “Everyone enjoys my canine friend’s good nature and calming effect.”