Norman: A Veteran’s Best Friend

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By Dominique McIndoe

March 2 is Read Across America Day — a time to encourage literacy and get children excited about reading. Reading is engaging, teaches us about important and fascinating people and places, and can provide an escape from the everyday.

Many adults and children find themselves reading more than ever during the pandemic, and now there’s a new book to add to that home library shelf. One of our own team members and local author Amanda Baity recently released her children’s book, Norman: A Veteran’s Best Friend.

Semper K9 Assistance Dogs: The Inspiration

Amanda Baity, Director of Operations and Photo Editor at Prince William Living and Brides & Weddings of Northern Virginia, understands the significance of reading and how literature can be used to highlight challenges in the military community. Her new book, Norman: A Veteran’s Best Friend, captures the imagination of children and guides us through the journey of a rescue dog as he helps his handler train service dogs for disabled veterans.

Baity and her husband, Marine Corps combat veteran Christopher Baity, cofounded the nonprofit organization, Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, in 2014. Semper K9 rescues dogs from shelters, trains them to be service dogs and provides these assistance dogs at no cost to wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. His military experience in training combat dogs and his challenges
following his eight-year service inspires fellow veterans to overcome the difficulties that they may be dealing with in their own lives. Semper K9 Assistance Dogs provided the foundation upon which Norman: A Veteran’s Best Friend is based.

Norman, Service Dog and Friend

Norman a veterans best friend, Amanda Baity

(Photo provided by Semper K9)

“[Norman is] a rescue dog that was days from euthanasia [and was]adopted by Semper K9 as their first service-dog candidate,” says Baity of her first children’s book. “The book discusses what a service dog does for its handler and touches on invisible wounds of war, disabled veterans and service-dog etiquette … Invisible wounds typically refer to disabilities that are not immediately noticed such as mental health disabilities like PTSD.”

Norman is named after Baity’s Marine Instructor from Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Master Sergeant James N. (Norman) Cunningham, Jr. He passed away in early 2014 and the Semper K9 program began in November of that same year. The Baitys’ real dog is also named Norman.

“This book has multiple meanings for me, my family, our Semper K9 family and all who knew James N. Cunningham Jr.,” says Baity. “Not only am I telling the story of Norman our dog, I am explaining part of the process that we do at our nonprofit.”

Adoption and blended families are also touched upon in the story.

“[A] topic I would like for people to take away after reading this book is that not all disabilities are visible,” says Baity.

Children can also learn and identify the importance of being respectful of others. “My hope is that children and their parents understand not to distract a service dog that is working. No petting or whistling — [these]are common problems many service dog handlers encounter in public … By distracting the dog there is a possibility that the dog will not perform needed tasks.” Tasks include, but are not limited to, “pulling a wheelchair, assisting with balance … alerting their handler if there is a drop in their blood sugar or an impending seizure.”

Though Norman is Baity’s first children’s book that she wrote two years ago in a span of 30 minutes, she’s no novice to creative writing.

“I have been writing books since a young age,” says Baity. “… it was never something I thought to pursue. Once I had children and began reading to them along with starting our nonprofit, I had a renewed interest to write a children’s book.”

Baity’s husband makes an appearance in Norman as a main character and is featured on the cover design. The illustrator is award-winning artist and former Prince William County Public Schools student, Avery Engstrom. Engstrom can identify with Baity’s vision firsthand — her father is a U.S. Marine.

A Bright Future

When asked if there are any future books in the works, Baity is optimistic.

“I have set it as a series about some of the dogs who graduated Semper K9 as service dogs to disabled veterans,” she says, hopeful that Norman resonates with readers. She also has a cookbook that’s in e-book format that she plans to update, expand and publish in the future.

One hundred percent of all sales of Norman: A Veteran’s Best Friend benefit the Semper K9 Assistance Dogs organization. Baity hopes to fund an entire service dog team with the book’s sales; this typically costs the nonprofit $20,000.

Purchase the book at BaitysBooks.com. Visitors can also request donations of book copies for military families, military medical facilities, and nonprofits that assist military families and veterans by clicking on Book Donation Request on the site. Information about Norman and his namesake can be found at SemperK9.org/dogs/Norman.

Dominique McIndoe (mcindoe@princewilliamliving.com) is an assistant production editor at a publishing group and a longtime writer.

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