By Josh Saunders and Kimberly LaRussa
An army veteran has been visiting a rescue centre for nearly 25 years to help hundreds of dogs get rehomed.
Bob Nowakowski, 73, from Lockport, New York, spends time caring for each of the individual canines to help socialise them so they are ready to be adopted.
He’s been visiting Niagara SPCA once a week since 1995 to help out and even adopted Chip, a black Labrador in 2004 who he described as a ‘best friend’.
Walking through the kennels, Bob pauses in front of ‘cell 22’ every time for a solemn moment – the kennel his dog used to reside in that now has a plaque in his memory, after he died in 2013.
With every trip he talks to the dogs, getting them sit before feeding them a dog treat or piece of cheese for his ‘favourites’ among the group of more than 30.
Tim Brennan, 60, executive director describes the loving retiree as ‘one of the closest friends of the shelter’.
Through Bob’s efforts, they modestly estimate he could have helped hundreds of dogs get rehomed partially thanks to his care.
Tim, of Niagara SPCA, said: “It was so heart-warming to see someone care about dogs as much as Bob does.
“Imagine being in a kennel with no home to call your own. Bob gives these dogs something to look forward to each week with this amazing act of kindness.
“It surprised me that he’s been doing it for this long, but it’s an important contribution to the socialisation of the dogs.
“The sooner the dogs are socialised the easier they are to get adopted, somebody like him is so important.
“He helps the dogs find a new home quicker, which is always the point, we want to get them out of the shelter as soon as possible.
“Even if he only affected 1% of the dogs, I can say he’s guaranteed to have affected at least one hundred dogs get adopted if not many more.
“He talks to each one and always has something to say to them, it’s his way of volunteering, not being physically able to walk them.
“He feels he is doing his part by visiting, talking to them and then giving them a treat. We need more Bobs in this world.”
Bob’s, who describes the visits as getting his ‘dog fix’, walks through the shelter unaffected by the loud excitable barking and goes onto feed each of the dogs.
With each visit he stops at one particular kennel.
Bob said: “I got my last dog Chip, out of ‘Cell 22’. I’ve been doing this since the 90s, I happen to like dogs.
“I just like to give dog treats. Dogs always take treats. I check them and say, ‘Give me foots’.
“Depending on the dogs, larger ones get a larger biscuit, small and super-small treats for the smaller dogs, but the dogs that catch my eye get cheese.
Bob believes that canines help to make the world a better place, caring for up to 30 dogs on the shelter’s adoptable floor each time.
He said: “There are guide dogs, hearing dogs, cadaver dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, drug sniffing dogs and there are all kinds of dogs that help people.
“What does a cat do, it eats, sleeps and poops, it’s very simple.
“Animals like elephants belong out in the wild, they were not meant to stand on stools, lions and tigers were not meant to jump through fire hoops – we should let them live normal lives.
“But dogs, they help man an awful lot and probably in a lot of cases dogs are truer friends than ‘people friends.’”
Niagara SPCA shelter is helped by Sweet Buffalo, founded three-years-ago by Kimberly LaRussa, 31, in Western New York.
She wants to raise awareness of the work done by caring individuals, spreading love, kindness and hope through her work.
Kimberly said: “Hearing that Bob has been delivering treats to shelter dogs at the same SPCA for more than 20 years was remarkable.
“I’m a big animal lover and I know how much this kind gesture means to them. It gives them something to look forward to see a familiar face and receive a treat.
“Bob seems like it means more to him to help dogs than it does to them.
“He enjoys talking to each dog and helping them learn commands before they get their treat.
“He also takes great interest in finding out which dog was adopted recently and displays great excitement when he hears the good news.
“The fact that he served our country in the Army and now he continuously gives back to our four-legged friends speaks volumes of his character.”
Niagara SPCA helps to rehome 1,300 dogs and cats every years, consisting mainly of strays from the area.
As a no-kill shelter, they receive no funding from the government, fully relying on private donations to fund their operations.
Tim said: “Donations are extremely important to us and our sustainability.
“There is always something if you can do to help, if you can’t adopt an animal, we have foster opportunities.
“If you can’t do that you could volunteer or donate, if a person cant afford to donate we has a wish list and are always looking for spare blankets or towels for the kennels.
For more information, to donate or to help visit: www.niagaraspca.org