Dogs are a way of life for Marine combat veteran Chris Baity.
Baity uses the skills he learned as a canine handler in the Corps to train service animals for wounded, critically ill or injured service members and their families through Semper K9.
“It started with an 11-year old girl who came over and loved dogs and wanted to be a dog trainer,” he said. So Baity trained the little girl from his neighborhood to train dogs.
And word spread quickly, leading Baity and his wife Amanda to found Semper K9 in 2014. The couple and their team of volunteers have trained more than 30 service dogs in five years. Headquartered outside the nation’s capital in Woodbridge, Virginia, the organization’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for wounded, critically ill or injured service members and their families by providing them with an assistance dog.
“Every veteran that comes through our door, at a bare minimum I’m going to teach you how to pick your next puppy,” Baity said. “I’m going to teach you how to train your next service dog or I’m going to teach you how to manage this dog for 10 to 15 years.”
Semper K9 provides the dogs, which have been rescued or donated, to wounded service members at no cost.
“No veteran fails our program,” Baity said. “You show them how to work with a dog and all those disabilities disappear.”
A lifelong dog lover, Baity had the opportunity to visit Quantico Marine Corps Base and interact with Marine dog handlers while on a high school trip to Washington D.C., with the Marine Corps Junior ROTC program. That sealed the deal on his decision to join the Corps as a dog handler. While in the Corps, Baity deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two of my deployments I was attached to Army units, National Guard,” he said. “Six months prior to the deployment those guys were mailmen, teachers. They would get teary eyed talking about their dogs back home.”
Baity said it costs about $15,000 to train each dog. Semper K9 relies on donations and various sponsorship opportunities to cover that cost. Training can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months, depending on the dog.
“There’s an art form with pairing a dog you’ve spent a certain amount of months with and a veteran,” he said. “The dog has to perform to your lifestyle, has been trained to perform to it, but can also perform disability related tasks or advanced obedience to match the treatment plan the veteran, the family, the doctor has established.”
To learn more about Semper K9, visit them online at http://www.semperk9.org/