Success After Service, How a 'Top Dog' is Helping Veterans with PTSD
What began in 9th grade joining the MCJROTC program became the beginning of a long road to the right path. USMC combat veteran Christopher Baity is still on that path heading toward success after service. Joining the Marine Corps right after high school, Baity wanted to be a military working dog handler. “We came to DC for a JROTC field trip. While in the area we visited the kennels at Marine Corps Base Quantico. I was the first one to volunteer to ‘catch a dog.’ After that experience I knew I wanted to become a Military Working Dog Handler,” said Baity.
After graduating boot camp at MCRD Parris Island, Baity went to Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Lejeune and then on to Military Police (MP) School in Ft Leonard Wood, MO. At the time he enlisted, the path to becoming a Marine Corps MWD Handler was to first become an MP. Upon graduation from MP school, Baity was selected to attend MWD Handler’s Course at Lackland Air Force Base with the 341st Training Squadron. Afterward, Baity was given the opportunity to create a kennel program at then HQ Marine Corps Henderson Hall, and he took it. He was stationed there throughout most of his military career, becoming the kennel master in 2005 after his first deployment to Iraq.
Being named ‘Top Dog’ at MWD Handler school put Baity at the top of the list to join a selected few Marines to attend a ‘Train the Trainer" course with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Oketz Dog School. “I was honored to be selected by the Marine Corps MWD Program Manager to attend SSD school in Israel,” said Baity. “The experience was invaluable toward my future endeavors to become an advanced dog trainer.” This experience also gave him a skill that not many dog trainers have, the ability to teach others how to train dogs.
Upon completion of this nine-month program, Baity had two billets in the Marine Corps. When he was stateside he was an SSD Section Trainer when he was deployed; he was Regional Kennel Master and SSD Team Leader. His next two deployments in the Marine Corps were to Iraq, attached to the 5th Engineer Battalion with the United States Army, in and around Baghdad. After his active duty service, Baity deployed to Afghanistan as a Contract Explosive Detector Dog Handler with RONCO Corporation as part of Afghanistan Central Command.
And when he returned home from deployments, he faced bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as drug and alcohol use. Like many service members coming home from combat and trying to transition back into family life, it can be a difficult shift. “Trying to find purpose after the transition to civilian life is difficult,” he said. “Lack of job security, tumultuous family dynamic and the desire to continue serving weighs heavily on your mind every day.” For several years Baity felt at a loss, going from one contracting job to another.
But Baity has no regrets. All decisions he had made in the past led to what he believes is his true calling, Semper K9 Assistance Dogs. Semper K9 rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to be service dogs at no cost for disabled service members. “I wanted to take my skills the Marine Corps taught me and my post-deployment challenges to assist other veterans to overcome their own difficulties,” Baity said. He and his wife, Amanda, founded Semper K9 in 2014 and went right to work. After researching other organizations that had similar missions, they identified weakness in other groups and strengths from industry leaders to create what currently has a one hundred percent success rate with their services.
“The most important things to us were to utilize rescue dogs and ensure that our veterans are assisted at no cost to them,” said Baity. “Also, being a military family with small children, the family involvement was high on our list of priorities since our mission is to enhance the quality of life for our wounded veterans.”
Because of his dedication to Semper K9’s mission, Baity was awarded American Heroes Channel’s Red Bandanna Hero in 2016 and named a Washingtonian of the Year for 2017 by Washingtonian magazine. He has just been awarded Evan Williams Bourbon American-Made Hero, an upcoming national campaign honoring military service members for their integrity and selfless service. Baity’s success after service now radiates down to his five children; the oldest has eyes on Marine Corps OCS. “I am beyond thankful to have the support of a loving wife and children along with our team of volunteers.” Semper K9 currently boasts 125 plus volunteers for a relatively small organization. “I feel like the many trials I endured during combat deployments, and the transition afterward have paved the way for my continued life of service,” said Baity.
Semper K9 recently purchased 33 acres adjacent to Marine Corps Base where they plan to build a retreat-style facility for out of area veterans and their families to come and train with their service dogs. This next step in their progress recently caught the eye of national TV host Mike Rowe. Rowe and his crew surprised the Baity’s and Team Semper K9 with a visit for their new show ‘Returning the Favor.’ Their episode will air on Facebook Watch sometime this spring; you can tune in to find out what they were surprised with. If you would like more information about Semper K9 visit www.SemperK9.org or @semperk9 on all social media outlets.