I co-founded Service Dog Strong (SDS) for Survivors of sexual assault. It is the first and only nonprofit of its kind in Maine. We turn rescue dogs into Service Dogs for Veteran and civilian Survivors with military sexual trauma and sexual assault-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our mission is to provide Service Dogs to Survivors of sexual assault diagnosed with PTSD, at NO COST to them. The dogs, once adopted, complete a 20-week training class with their Survivors, transforming them both into PTSD-stopping machines and giving them both limitless possibilities. Each Survivor learns to train their dog for specific tasks that will help them overcome their PTSD and take back control of their life.
Here is my story of how SDS came about…
I am a Survivor of rape. When I was 20 years old, I enlisted in the Army to serve my country and fulfill a lifelong dream and family legacy, to become a Soldier. I was a year into my service when I was violently raped. This crime did more than hurt my body, it left severe scars on my mind and damaged my total wellbeing. At that time in the Army, there was little help available for Survivors of rape and even less support to encourage people to come forward and tell authorities about it. My violent rape caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and I developed PTSD from the incident. I began to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs to deal with the trauma I had endured and had to keep to myself. My whole life has been negatively impacted by this incident. After discharge from the Army, I led a life of trying to forget; drinking, using drugs, risky behavior and isolation were all ways I tried to deal with what happened.
As you can imagine, these were not good solutions to the problem, and anxiety and depression soon followed. These destructive behaviors are all too common for Survivors of sexual assault.
Through determination, and driven by a strong will to heal, I rose above my adversities and was able to detox and begin to build a different life for myself. I found help through counseling at the local Vet Center, enrolled in a 12-step program and was on my way to a better life. In reaching out for help I was able to find closure with the military, received an honorable discharge and the military finally acknowledged the rape had caused my PTSD symptoms and TBI. But after years of rebuilding my life, I still found it hard to feel comfortable in public and had problems interacting with authority figures. The idea of a Service Dog for my PTSD was brought up in a counseling session and I knew I wanted to try a dog for help with my symptoms. After receiving the dog and becoming certified, I noticed a great deal of confidence come back. I was able to go out and about and not think twice about the situation. I felt strong with my dog by my side. It had returned a peace to me that I had not felt since before I was raped. This was my motivation to start SDS, in hope of helping to return the same confidence and strength to other Survivors.
In 2018 a mutual friend introduced me to Kristen Stacy, a fellow Survivor, whose drive to help others equaled my own. Very early in our conversations I realized that Kristen was the partner I needed to help launch Service Dog Strong.
The funds we raise go directly to training Survivor/Service Dog teams and allow us to continue to maintain and grow our program. It costs approximately $5000.00 to provide one Survivor a rescue dog, send the team through training and get them on the path to recovery and leading a full life.
We truly believe from our own personal experience, and from what research is starting to show, that Service Dogs help Survivors immensely!