Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Marine veteran George Lamb served in Iraq during the Gulf War. Lamb served in Bahrain. The story has been updated.
Christopher and Amanda Causey Baity are in the saving business.
The Prince William County couple have other, paying jobs — she works with a local magazine, and he is employed with a security company — but much of their time is devoted to saving the lives of man and beast.
The Baitys operate Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a nonprofit group that matches wounded or critically ill or injured military veterans with rescued dogs that are trained to become service animals. The work saves the dogs from euthanasia, and helps keep the veterans from lives of despair brought on by their physical difficulties.
Semper K9 has been operating for about 11/2 years, and the Baitys expect to have the first graduation of service dogs in July.
The organization combines Christopher Baity’s love for dogs with his former active-duty service as a Marine.
“It’s a dream job,” the 34-year-old said.
Baity’s parents bred Labrador and golden retrievers when he was growing up, and even his military service was connected to canines.
“I joined the Marine Corps to be a dog handler,” he said.
Baity served 81/2 years in the Marines, where dogs are used mainly to find bombs, drugs or, in some cases, people. His service included a deployment to Iraq, as well as time in Afghanistan as a dog-handling contractor.
He and his wife met in ROTC in high school in the Atlanta area in 1996, but they then went their separate ways. By the time they reconnected, they each had children of their own.
The red-haired couple have been married three years, and they have added son Abram, 18 months, and several in-training dogs to their already-blended family.
The six-person clan lives near the middle of Prince William on 54 acres tucked in beside neighborhoods with smaller properties. The tract includes a lake that spans two to three acres. Although it is minutes from the county government center to the east and Manassas to the west, the property seems secluded.
The Baitys dubbed the farmland “Camp Semper K9,” and it has become a place where veterans can hang out and volunteers can help with projects, such as tending to the family’s chickens.
The featured work is the dog training, however.
It takes nine months to two years of teaching before a pooch is ready to be turned over to a veteran, Christopher Baity said.
As of last week, Semper K9 had seven rescued dogs in training, many of them Labradors, and 40 to 50 veterans who were affiliated with the organization in one way or another. Baity also is helping other canine enthusiasts train another eight or nine dogs.
Baity has assisted fellow service members from the Washington area, and as far away as Florida and Idaho. Veterans who qualify for Semper K9’s programs often have had amputations, burns, spinal cord problems, traumatic brain injuries, severe post-traumatic stress or other difficulties.
George Lamb, a Marine veteran who served in Bahrain, is one of the recipients of Semper K9’s services. He met Baity at an event at Quantico last year, and Baity helped him train two pit bull puppies, Layla and Zoe.
Lamb, 56, has vertigo, and the dogs can retrieve his medication for him if he cannot get out of bed. They also know how to wake him up and comfort him when he has combat-induced nightmares.
“They totally changed my life,” he said of the dogs.
Army Special Forces veteran Vernon “Bo” Londagin said he appreciates that Christopher Baity took his military experience, brought it into the “civilian world” and uses it to give back to the military community. Londagin helps with Semper K9 and employs Baity at his business, Covert Security.
Some animal trainers may not want to disclose their training secrets for fear of rendering themselves unnecessary. But Londagin said Baity enjoys imparting his knowledge.
“He wants people to learn,” the Woodbridge resident said.
Training assistance dogs is not cheap. It costs about $20,000 to train a dog, according to Semper K9, but all of the organization’s services are provided free. So donations are important to the Baitys, as are proceeds from events such as an open house that was to be held Saturday.
Fundraising can be a chore for any nonprofit group, but Semper K9’s combined focus on dogs and veterans allows it to attract donors interested in animals, the military or both, the Baitys said.
Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications, which broadcasts the Discovery Channel and other cable networks, also boosted Semper K9 by filming a public service announcement for the organization in November.