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Couple prepares protection dogs for families serving abroad Lisa Mackinder
Jaeger’s keen eyes remain firmly planted
on Mark Baumann. At the appearance of the bite sleeve on Baumann’s arm, the black German shepherd barks eagerly. Baumann gives a command, and Jaeger leaps, bites and clamps onto the jute bite sleeve until his handler provides the word for release. But soon the scenarios played out between dog and trainer will become more true to life. “For instance, we will hide sleeves under jackets and have someone attack me. He then learns to bite the person and not a sleeve,” explains Baumann, a Schoolcraft man who, with his wife Rhonda, operates Tak9Missions, a company that trains tactical, search-andrescue and protection dogs. Tak9Missions trains these dogs to give them to nonprofit organizations and families who need them. Many of the families who have received protection dogs like Jaeger are overseas doing mission or charity work. Tak9Missions doesn’t charge families for the dogs or the training they provide. Instead,
the Baumanns cover the cost to buy, care for and train the dogs. The Baumanns do charge fees to paying clients to provide behavioral training for dogs, and they receive some donations to help offset what they pay from their own pockets. Running Tak9Missions is a secondary pursuit for the Baumanns, who both have full-time jobs. Mark Baumann is senior manager of audits, systems and performance for the Global Risk Management team at Zoetis, and Rhonda Baumann is a customer service specialist at Flower Insurance Group. They train dogs in the evenings and on weekends, but Mark says he enjoys every minute of it, from forming a bond with the dogs to watching them grow to working together as a team. The dogs teach him things too: compassion, willingness to trust and unconditional love. “You always hear people say, ‘If you do your passion, you won’t get tired,’” Mark says. “I finally figured out what that meant.”
Mark Baumann works with Jaeger, a German shepherd Baumann is training to serve as a protection dog.
Rhonda agrees, saying both she and Mark have to love working with dogs because “it wouldn’t work any other way.” “It would most likely build resentment in someone who didn’t love the dogs and the training process,” she says. “Mark and I are able to work together in a passion we both have, so it strengthens our relationship as we work together to achieve our goals.”
The trainers The Baumanns have always loved dogs. As a child, Mark raised and trained hunting dogs. Rhonda grew up training 4-H dogs, an experience that made her very familiar with the obedience side of their current business. For the last five years, Mark has learned from some of the top dog experts in the business. He trained with Christy Borman of Texas, a certified Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handler for w w w.encorekalamazoo.com | 19