By Caitlin M. Kenney

Woodbridge, Virginia—After U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Kelvin Valdez got his service dog Belleau, he decided to take a trip to the Lincoln Memorial to see how he — and Belleau — would handle being in a crowd.

“So we went into the memorial and it was just—I could tell it was a lot of people, I could feel the environment,” he said, “but knowing that I had her on my leash, it was just like me and her just walking in together. Like nobody else existed, just me and her.”

Valdez received his service dog from Semper K9, a non-profit organization run by husband and wife team Christopher Baity, a Marine Corps veteran who worked as a dog handler while in the service, and Amanda Baity.

Their dogs are trained for several months, starting as puppies, before they are paired with veterans. Then they continue each dog’s training specifically with the veteran receiving the animal.

The Baitys just purchased 33 acres near Marine Corps Base Quantico for the future site of a live-in facility that will allow veterans and their families to spend time as they and their service animals get to know one another.

To veterans and family members thinking a service dog might be of help, Christopher Baity suggests they first talk with their primary care or mental health provider.

“Every service dog is prescribed by a doctor,” he said, “Every organization that is providing a service dog should know and should have direct contact with” the veteran’s physician.

It’s important, too, he said, that all family members are brought into discussions about whether a service dog is a good idea, and what type of service dog, such as a medical alert or mobility dog.

Baity says that there are options, including veterans benefiting just from animal-assisted therapy.

Once it has been determined that a service dog does fit a treatment plan and family life, Baity encourages vets to reach out to a non-profit, service dog organization that is accredited and with the Association for Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans.

You can reach Semper K9 via their website: semperk9.org 

Connect: @CaitlinMKenney | Caitlin@ConnectingVets.com

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