My Returning the Favor Experience
By Christopher Baity
Christopher Baity, along with his wife Amanda, founded Semper K9 Assistance Dogs in 2014. Baity is an OEF/OIF veteran Marine Corps dog trainer and kennel master with three combat deployments, one civilian deployment and two additional overseas deployments with working dogs. He has over 16 years of formal dog training and handling experience. Currently a Certified Dog Trainer (CDT), evaluator and service dog instructor, Baity is proficient in animal behavior, obedience training, and kennel management.
Baity was awarded ‘Top Dog Award’ while attending Military Working Dog Handler’s Course at Lackland AFB. He also studied in Israel under the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Oketz Dog Program with 3 other Marines and 5 SSDs, this was the only class to complete dog training and “Train the Trainer” course. This formal training, along with his combat deployments and civilian K9 career have prepared him for developing and implementing operations at Semper K9 Assistance Dogs. Baity specializes in mobility and psychiatric alert service dogs and enjoys being able to connect with veterans and help them regain confidence and independence.
Baity has recently been awarded Red Bandanna Hero of the Year by American Heroes Channel and a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine. This is his Returning the Favor Experience.
“When I started Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, it was not for recognition, fame or notoriety. I have a unique set of skills, and I wanted to use those skills to give back to my fellow service members. After leaving the Marine Corps, I felt lost, moving from one contracting job to the next; I was missing a sense of purpose. I found that purpose when I began working with wounded veterans and service dogs. To witness my fellow servicemen and women overcoming tremendous challenges helped me realize my personal struggles were trivial in comparison. This empowered me to add my own experiences and expertise to this worthwhile industry.
Fast forward four years: Our non-profit has assisted more than 100 veterans, rescued nearly 20 dogs, and we currently have over 125 active volunteers. With this growth, we faced a need for a permanent location to build a training facility and expand our operations so we could serve more veterans and rescue more dogs. This continued growth and success caught the attention of someone in our community, and the rest is history.
In the almost four years since we founded Semper K9, we have hosted several news crews and conducted a number of film interviews, public presentations and dog training demonstrations, but they pale in comparison to a full production team taking over your home for three days. In hindsight, I underestimated the moving parts and personnel necessary to create a 25-minute episode (not to mention editing, marketing, and distribution). For this, I am forever grateful to all who made this experience possible.
Answering questions and giving presentations about the importance of service dogs and the amazing work they do has always been easy for me. Since leaving the Marine Corps, I was afforded many opportunities to improve my public speaking skills, and I continually joke that I could talk for hours if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, this skill doesn’t translate with lights and cameras in your face and a three-page schedule of discussion topics. The pre-production team did a great job in preparing the discussions and interviews to fully capture the mission here at Semper K9. To me, that is what makes our story unique and a worthwhile endeavor. We strive to enhance the quality of life for our veterans and their family members. Giving our wounded servicemembers a mission to accomplish, and a partner to assist them in continued success.
Servicemembers have all encountered the ‘Hurry up and Wait!’ pace in daily military life. By day two of filming, we realized this is also common in the film industry. My wife and I quickly settled in as hosts through the whirlwind of fresh faces, rushing around completing their various jobs ‘on set.’ Talking shop and discussing the many nuances of the military, service dog and non-profit world took up most of our free time. Through all this, the crew soaked it up, seemingly absorbing every topic we discussed and graciously allowed me to continue selling our story. A multi-faceted organization with one solid mission isn’t that hard to sell, but I treated this as our opportunity to go big; if I fill their cameras with enough information and success stories, we could put Semper K9 on the map!
‘Knock, Knock’ and a recognizable and booming ‘Hello,’ quickly made everything so clear. We had been played! The truth was out, and the Mike Rowe was in our doorway. Apparently, I am either very easy to lie to, or I am oblivious to ulterior motives. According to the “Dirty Jobs” king, he didn’t ask anyone to lie to me; just lead me through a series of “misconceptions.” For those asking themselves as they read this, yes, Mike Rowe is that cool. Impressionable and always insightful, Mike filled the gap in the ambiance we had missing the first portion of filming. He had heard our backstory and was apparently thrilled to learn how we train service dogs.
Mike and I spoke candidly for a few hours about Semper K9’s mission and the process of providing free, custom-trained service dogs to wounded veterans. I quickly learned that he also had a special mission; finding those unique individuals around the country, “Bloody Do-Gooders” as he calls them–and telling their story. As I eventually learned, Mike had done his research and had already met several of our veterans, service dogs and volunteers while we were distracted the first two days. I spoke of the veterans we serve, our extremely dedicated volunteers and the community that allow us to complete our mission. To be successful, you have to step away from your comfort areas and speak from your heart. I am honored to do this regularly, giving presentations about disabilities and the benefits service dogs provide to wounded veterans while spreading the purpose of our mission and the reasons for our success.
But the story wasn’t compelling enough…yet. Mike wanted to show all his viewers the lengths we had taken to continue our mission and, equally importantly, our plans for the future. When Mike Rowe wants a tour of your future training facility, you want to impress him. Unfortunately, it’s currently undeveloped land at the end of a dirt road in the woods. “Please, come back in six months and I can hopefully give you a tour of something tangible.” This wasn’t an option for Mike, so we saddled up and I prepared to amaze him with an artist’s rendering and a bit of “Close your eyes and imagine this…”
Now, Mike Rowe has an entourage, and when he is working, he never stops impressing. We climbed into an SUV with no less than six cameras in every angle of the interior. However, Mike was only partially interested in what I had to say at this point. Instead, he wanted to tell me a story. The road to our new property is 1700 feet long and nothing more than dirt and mud. Driving in, I noticed it had been patched in several areas, some trees were cleared, and the trip to the top of the road was less treacherous. Mike explained how the internet has brought surprises to near extinction. So, in the film industry, hiding the full intent of any project requires a level of secrecy and misdirection. And that was it: I had been misled for the better part of the past three months, all for the sake of hiding the true interest of “Returning the Favor.”
Mike had gathered many of our veterans, almost all of our local service dogs, and over one hundred volunteers and enthusiastic supporters. His team had brought together those close to my heart, those whom I am honored to call “family.” The efforts and past three days came to fruition. Mike Rowe wasn’t here just to learn about Semper K9; he wanted to reward our efforts and help promote our plans for the facility. He wanted to bring our family together and surprise us with the real reason for his visit.
Looking back, I know I didn’t use the experience to its full potential. Mike Rowe has moved on to continue doing great things across the country. Given another chance, I would thank him again for being interested in our life and in Semper K9’s mission. Honestly, I am grateful to be able to perform my duties, but I am successful–WE are successful–because of those around me. I have found a place I call home, in a career and a sense of purpose which I consider a calling, performing a job that is impactful.
Thank you, Mike Rowe, for being interested; you, sir, are the true Bloody Do-Gooder.”
Read more about Semper K9’s beginnings here: semperk9.org/about-us/mission.