By Keisha Jackson
Air Force Veteran and Family Caregiver
Between 11-20 percent of U.S. veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF), 12 percent of Gulf War veterans, and 15 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) every year (www.ptsd.va.gov/). Approximately 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year (www.aspca.org/).
What happens when a veteran suffering from PTSD and a dog rescued from a shelter meet? They become “battle-buddies,” enabling the disabled veterans to reach their life goals.
Semper K9 is one of a few dedicated veteran service organizations providing custom-trained service dogs for wounded service members, free of charge.
“Sometimes the biggest challenge isn’t a dog’s behavior but it’s health” says America’s Heroes Group Military Family Caregivers Matter, guest panelist, Chris Baity. “Finding a dog with the right temperament, aptitude, and disposition then matching the “right dog” with the “right person” so they can be a team for life is key.”
For a veteran to obtain a service dog, the first step is for the veteran to talk to his or her doctor. The matching process begins when the veteran candidate is notified their application for a service dog is approved.
The candidate should find an organization that provides service dogs and services directly trained for their needs or disability. Once a dog is located that is a suitable service dog candidate, it begins a 12-month training program. After the program, the dog trains with its disabled veteran to become a service dog team.
Since Semper K9’s founding in 2014, it has trained and graduated 52 service dog teams with another 12 expected to compete training by October 30, 2020.
Before the dog is matched to a veteran, training a service dog can take as long as two years. The cost to train a service dog can exceed $15,000. Because Semper K9 provides service dogs at no cost to the veterans, they primarily rely on donations and are always looking for partners to expand their programs and assist more veterans.
Semper K9 is also a founding member of the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans (ASDPMV). ASDPMV re-introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act (PAWS 2) to take money already provided within the Veteran Affairs (VA) system for assisted and service dogs and reallocate the funds to ensure veterans who need the dogs get them. The bill would also prompt the VA to launch a pilot program looking at links between service dogs and mental health.
To learn more about Semper K9, visit: www.semperk9.org.
Christopher Baity is the co-founder of Semper K9. Baity is an OEF/OIF veteran, Marine Corps dog trainer, and kennel master. His training, along with his combat deployments and civilian K9 career has prepared him for developing and implementing operations at Semper K9 Assistance Dogs. Baity specializes in mobility and psychiatric alert service dogs for veterans.