By Olivia Overman | Photos by Amanda Baity
What started with a high school Marine Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program visit to Marine Corps Base
Quantico that included a demonstration from the Military Working Dogs has led to a life dedicated to helping and enhancing the quality of life of wounded veterans. Christopher Baity and his wife, Amanda, are the owners, trainers and driving force behind Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a 501(c)3 non-profit that seeks to help veterans overcome their difficulties and live happier, more productive lives with the assistance of rescue dogs.
Semper K9’s Mission
Formed in 2014, Semper K9 rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to be service dogs at no cost for disabled service members. The organization is built upon service and the knowledge of how this service can impact someone’s life and family forever.
After returning from deployments, Baity faced what a lot of veterans are faced with, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, difficulty transitioning into civilian life, as well as drug and alcohol use. It was when an opportunity presented itself to give back that Baity knew he “wanted to take [his]skills the Marine Corps taught [him]and [his]post-deployment challenges to assist other veterans to overcome their own difficulties.” After completing research into what help was available to veterans, Baity realized that his skills as a military dog handler could provide some much-needed assistance to veterans. And so, Semper K9 Assistance Dogs was formed.
Speaking about the organization, veteran Michael Mennemeyer, a recipient of service dog Chuck, said, “The organization has given me the opportunity to go out and enjoy life again. I can’t be thankful enough. It has given me my life back and has helped me and my family get through these tough and uncertain times.”
Giving Back Through Programs and More
Semper K9 offers free programs not just for veterans, but also their families. The Service Dogs for Veterans Program provides fully-trained service dogs for veterans with psychiatric and physical disabilities. This program also offers evaluations for a veteran’s own family dog for possible training as a service dog.
“We begin determining the best service dog for a veteran during their application process,” said Baity. “We want the dog to accentuate their life and give them a new or returning sense of confidence and independence. We train the veterans with several of our dogs in order to better determine the ‘perfect match’ and eventually the veteran is matched with a dog that performs best for the veteran’s short- and long-term health goals,” he continued.
The Family Integration Program is a program that includes training for family members of veterans. Baity and his team include lessons on dog CPR and first aid, basic dog-handling skills, access rights and other classes that will help families when the dog goes home with them.
Out in the community, Semper K9 offers a Community Education Program where Baity and his team attend local events and teach the public and area businesses about service dogs. It is not just the Semper K9 team that is involved in community outreach, however. Veterans, like Mennemeyer and his family, give back to the organization that has helped them so much. “We are able to support SK9 by going to events and being ambassadors for them and spreading the word of the great work that they do. I honestly enjoy when people come up to me now and ask about Chuck and where he came from, and I can tell them the story of
what SK9 does and how Chuck and I were paired together,” said Mennemeyer.
What the Baity family has developed is not just an organization that provides a service to veterans, it also offers a family for all those associated with them. “The family feel that Chris and Amanda foster makes it truly special,” said Tisa Newhouse, Volunteer Coordinator and Healthcare Advisor at Semper K9.
Having worked with the organization since its inception four years ago, Newhouse has seen how much of an impact the organization has had. “When the veteran looks you in the eye and tells you they can’t imagine their life without their dog, it brings tears to my eyesand fills my heart with pride,” Newhouse said.
The work of Semper K9 has been recognized with Baity earning the 2016 Red Bandanna Hero Award, which
recognizes those whose efforts have made a difference and enhanced lives in an extraordinary way. Baity was also named 2017 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine and, more recently, appeared on “Returning The Favor” with Mike Rowe.
Fundraising and the Future
The organization receives funding through grants and corporate sponsorships, but most of the funding comes directly from individuals and third-party events that people and groups host across the country. “Third-party events are great because … these events potentially reach veterans who need our services that we may not be reaching in our network,” said Amanda Baity.
Several fundraising events are also held locally throughout the year that support the mission. The organization is also a charity partner for the Marine Corps Marathon and a 5K Hero Hike at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Wreaths Across America, Festival of Trees and others.
Fundraising is ongoing for Semper K9’s new 8,000-square-foot facility (Camp Semper K9), which is adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico. The property, which is 33 acres, borders the base on the north-west side in Fauquier County. “Currently, we are waiting for the final site plan approval from the county so we can get started, but we still need pro bono or discounted services and products to help,” said Amanda.
While the organization continues to grow and increase the number of veterans it helps, its mission has not changed. “We have the exact same programs we set out to provide. However, now we are able to help more veterans than we originally thought. We intended to stay small, but our wonderful volunteers here in Prince
William forced us to grow. We had so many great people wanting to be part of the mission and help wounded service members that we grew to create space for everyone to help out,” said Amanda.
To make a donation or find out more about Semper K9, visit semperk9.org.
Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned an M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.