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Raise your Glass and Toast a Local American-Made Hero

By Delia Engstrom

Limited edition bottles of Evan Williams Bourbon will soon feature Chris Baity, the Founder and Executive Director of Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, on their labels. As a finalist in Evan William’s American-Made Heroes program, Baity recently received one of the custom bottles as well as a $10,000 donation for Semper K9.

“We had 3,000 nominees this year and narrowed it down to six finalists after a 3 to 6-month review process,” remarked Julie Cole, Associate Brand Manager for Heaven Hill Brands, the distiller of Evan Williams Bourbon.

Evan Williams Bourbon is a proud American made and owned company whose annual contest honors brave military veterans who continue to serve their local communities after having served their country. The standard black labels that normally adorn their bottled bourbon are replaced with a patriotic color scheme bearing the photo and bio of the selected American-Made Heroes.

Baity is a Marine Corps combat veteran, former military dog handler and kennel master who founded Semper K9 with his wife Amanda in 2014. Their non-profit gives back to the military community by providing service dogs free of charge to veterans.  Chris pairs with a local rescue group where he selects potential service dog candidates and trains them to assist with PTSD and mobility challenges.  Aided by a dedicated team of volunteers, known as Team Semper K9, Baity spends 6-18 months readying these pups for their mission. On average it costs $20,000 to raise, train, and certify each dog but no costs are passed on to the veterans who benefit from Baity’s expertise.

“It’s important for me to help fellow veterans,” commented Baity, “The Marine Corps gave me a skill that allows me to help. Many veterans need that help and can benefit from a service dog.”

Veteran Kelvin Valdez received Belleau, a German Shepherd after she was donated to Semper K9 to be trained as a service dog.  When he learned that Evan Williams chose Baity as an American-Made Hero, he wholeheartedly agreed with their selection, stating “Chris and his wife Amanda, along with the rest of the Semper K9 family, have given me back my chance at life.  Chris and the work that he does day in and out has not only afforded me and my family this opportunity but many others as well. The Marine Corps motto is ‘Semper Fidelis’ (Always Faithful) and Chris is a true example of someone who lives by these words through his actions and much more.”

In order to train even more service dogs and reach a greater number of veterans like Valdez, Semper K9 is expanding their operation. They have purchased 33 acres of land adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico that will serve as the future home of the non-profit. After receiving the check from Evan Williams, Baity announced: “I plan to use the $10,000 for improvements at Semper K9’s new facility”. Perhaps a custom bottle of Evan Williams Bourbon will be poured to celebrate its completion.

Visit semperk9.org to learn more about this American-Made Hero.

Delia Engstrom is a writer, photographer, dog owner, and proud Marine Corps spouse who resides in Montclair.

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