Friday, August 30, 2019

Service Dog Strong organization to provide relief for those with RR-PTSD anxiety

Simone Emmons
By Lorraine Glowczak

Known as a person’s best friend, dogs offer companionship and unconditional love. This, in and of itself, provides more health benefits than we can possibly know. But there is more. Dogs can be trained to guide the blind, assist the deaf or hard of hearing, offer a warning to an individual with epilepsy and can calm PTSD related anxiety.

Service Dog Strong, a local nonprofit, is just months and a few dollars away from obtaining their mission to provide trained service dogs free of charge to individuals who experience PTSD related anxiety as a result of sexual trauma, otherwise known as Rape Related PTSD (RR-PTSD)
The brainchild of Simone Emmons of Windham, Service Dog Strong came into being on March 21, 2019. She, along with co-founder Kristen Stacy intend to help others who are dealing with the dramatic effects resulting from sexual assault. “I started this organization because I simply wanted to help other people who have been through what I have,” Emmons said, whose service dog Gunner has eased the angst of many anxiety attacks.

Emmons and Stacy publicly share their stories so others will know they are not alone – and to come forward for help.

After graduating from Windham High School, Emmons joined the armed forces in 2006 with the intention of making it her life’s career. Shortly after basic training, she was violently raped by another officer. “What added insult to injury is that he told others about the rape and they all laughed and joked about it,” Emmons began. “My complaints were dismissed and downplayed by those whose rank was above my own. When I tried to stand up for myself, I was told that I had it coming to me.” 
The assault also caused a brain injury.
The reaction from her superiors and counterparts fed into her own feelings of worthlessness. Her anxiety and self-loathing grew until it became unbearable. She started using drugs and alcohol to suffocate and hide the emotional pain. “That one traumatic experienced traumatized my life,” she said. “I was able to maintain employment, but it was low wage and it was very hard to make a living.

This employment difficulty was a result of the discharge the army gave me, I was left with no assistance or educational benefits. They just gave me a discharge abruptly. It was not dishonorable but uncharacterized.”

According to an online academic article written in the Psychiatric Times, “Rape and other forms of sexual assault have broad-reaching effects on many levels, including basic needs, functional impairment, physical health and mental health. Although chronic psychopathology does not develop in most rape or sexual assault victims, these forms of traumatic victimization are associated with a higher prevalence of PTSD than are other types of traumatic event. For example, the National Women's Study, an epidemiological survey of 4008 women, found the lifetime prevalence of PTSD resulting from rape and sexual assault to be 32% and 30.8%, respectively, compared with a prevalence of 9.4% caused by non-crime-related trauma (eg, motor vehicle accident).”

Kristen Stacy
Emmons started attending the Veterans Center in Portland and discovered that she could get emotional support and help free of charge. She began therapy – and it was here she learned that the rape was not her fault. She stopped using drugs and alcohol, turning to more holistic methods to calm her RR-PTSD. Emmons also discovered that she qualified for a service dog trained specifically for anxiety. It has changed her life.

Stacy’s story began one evening in her college dorm. “I was doing what a lot of young students do - I was underage drinking and I passed out in my bed,” she began. “The next thing I know, I am waking up in the morning with a man I only knew slightly lying next to me and I was in a pool of blood.”

Much like Emmons’ experience, Stacy’s incident was also downplayed by her rapist and her female roommates. “They would say things like, ‘I’m sure it’s not what it seems.’ So, I just kept everything to myself and I didn’t tell anyone.”

Keeping her rape a secret and having her own feelings of worthlessness took its toll. She later tried to commit suicide, but it was the text she wrote to a friend just prior to her attempt that saved her life when he called the police. (According to, suicide is common among rape victims. Emmons stated that suicide attempts after sexual assault are actually higher than with combat related PTSD.)

Upon completing her bachelor’s degree at USM and her master’s in social work at UNE (University of New England), Stacy continued to keep her rape a secret. It wasn’t until Stacy discovered through a friend that Emmons was creating Service Dog Strong, that she revealed her story. “I knew this was it for me – I knew speaking up and helping others would free me from my past. The biggest blessing this has been for me is I now know I’m not alone.” Stacy said.

Already, in just five months after Service Dog Strong began, there is a list of people waiting for trained service dogs. However, the organization is still trying to raise the funds needed to meet the demand. “For six people, it costs $21,000,” explained Emmons, who – along with Stacy- will not receive any financial reimbursement for their work. “The cost will go toward adoption fees, spaying/neutering, 18 weeks of training as well as the vest and color all service dogs wear.”

Emmons continued, “When I thought of creating Service Dog Strong, it never occurred to me the financial aspect that would be required, I simply want to help other rape survivors. That’s all.”

Help Emmons and Stacy help others. Donations can be made through the Service Dog Strong Facebook page, or a check/money order can be sent to: Kristen Stacy, 10 Stacy’s Way, Denmark, ME 04022.

If you have been raped, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE. It does not matter whether the rape happened recently or long ago.

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