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Service Dog Strong: sexual assault survivors hope dogs can be a source of strength for others

Simone Emmons says she got her life back when her service dog, Gunner, came into her life. Now, she's determined to give that feeling to other survivors of sexual assault -- but she needs Mainers' help.

PORTLAND, Maine — Simone Emmons has struggled for years with the memory of her sexual assault and post traumatic stress disorder, but all of that changed when she met her service dog, Gunner.

"I look down, and he’s there, and I am 100 percent supported by him," Emmons said.

The two have been together for about a year now, and in that time, Emmons says her life has been given back to her.

"I lived a life of trying to forget what happened -- trying to distance myself from the memories. Now I don’t," Emmons said. "Even before I notice my anxiety behavior coming up, he’s noticing it and reacting to that, coming up giving me kisses."

That bond and trust has given Emmons the confidence to do the things she loves again. It has also given her the confidence to share her story and do something to help other survivors of sexual assault.

"I wanted to speak out for people that are dealing with PTSD and don’t have the courage to get help."

So, she and Kristen Stacy decided to team up and start something new. Both being sexual assault survivors, they came up with the idea for 'Service Dog Strong', an organization dedicated to providing service dogs to sexual assault survivors.

The two are still working on getting it off the ground. They need to raise $3,000 to obtain non-profit status. Once they do that, they say they will need to raise even more money to get everything they need for their first class of service dogs. A GoFundMe page has been created to help.

The goal is to have at least six survivors per class -- each would be given a service dog and training at no cost. They believe this would be the first of its kind for Maine.

"We kind of feel like we’re just the starting voice," Stacy said. "We care. We know that you need support, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help."

Emmons says she now knows Gunner was her missing piece, which is why she and Stacy are determined to help as many people as they can create their own new chapter. They say they hope others who believe in their mission help them make it happen.

"We aren’t going to take no for an answer," Stacy said. "We’re going to make this work because we believe that it’s a need."

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