Prince William, VA- The “Importance of Animal Therapy for Our Veterans” was the topic of discussion at the April meeting of the Northern Virginia Veterans Association, held at the Freedom Museum in Manassas. Locally based Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, led the presentation, demonstrating the ways that assistance dogs can assist veterans and their families as they transition into post-combat life.
Animals are accepting creatures. Unlike humans, animals are not at all prejudiced toward differences among people. Animals neither notice nor care if the human has been handicapped or is in some way impaired. The use of prostheses, wheelchairs, or crutches holds no attached meaning for a pet. For the service members with PTS and/or TBI, pets are the ever-affectionate friend determined to give and receive comfort and attention.
“Often, a family expects that mom or dad will come home and everything will return to normal. But that isn’t always the case,” said Semper K9 Executive Director Christopher Baity. “It can be difficult for the returning service member to come off the ‘high alert’ status that he has endured during combat. The emotional support our dogs provide can be the first step in helping our veterans truly feel at home and comfortable.”
“Semper K9 is a founding partner that has an integral part in the local network of Veteran and Military service providers we collaborate with.” said Northern Virginia Veterans Association President Angela McConnell. “We appreciate their commitment to our joint mission in support of those who served and their families.” As a member of the association, Semper K9 is part of its Veteran Quality of Life Cycle initiative, which introduces veterans, active duty military and their families to community support resources as needed.
Photos by Delia Engstrom
“I understand the military culture. I understand what they’ve gone through and have walked in their shoes several times. That makes Semper K9 a little different,” said Baity, himself an OEF/OIF combat veteran who trained military working dogs during his Marine Corps service.
“Typically, service dog organizations breed, raise and train dogs before pairing them with veterans, a process that can take years,” said Director of Operations Amanda Causey Baity. “We cut training time in half by using rescue dogs with a train-the-handler approach, custom training the service dog based on the need of the recipient while also teaching dog training skills.”
In addition to being able to serve more veterans more quickly with this method, it also reduces training and placement costs she said. All services provided by Semper K9 are free of charge to the service members.
Semper K9 Assistance Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides assistance dogs for wounded, critically-ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Christopher Baity, Semper K9’s Executive Director is an OEF/OIF combat veteran Marine Corps dog trainer and kennel master with three combat deployments, one civilian deployment and two additional overseas deployments. With 14 years of experience he continues to use progressive styles in an ever evolving field. Currently a Certified Dog Trainer (CDT), evaluator and service dog instructor, Baity is proficient in animal behavior, obedience and training, and kennel management. You can find out more information about Semper K9 at www.SemperK9.org.
Northern Virginia Veterans Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Manassas, Virginia. Their vision is to be the non-competitive organization that convenes all groups whose proven performance supports our Military community; inspires action; empowers collective action; and is an important part of a positive outcome earned by those who have served our nation. You can find out more information about NOVA Vets at their website, www.NOVAVets.org