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Furrever Friend for Ben Shoniker

Let's reach that goal!

Family raises money to get service dog for son

The Shonikers lost their family dog, Zoe, last week. The loss was especially devastating for their seven-year-old son, Ben.

Ben has several developmental and sensory disorders, as a result he requires constant supervision. Zoe was his companion and helped to relieve his anxiety about being alone.

His parents, Rebecca and Jim, are raising money for a service dog to be a companion for Ben, to alert them if Ben is in danger and to track Ben if he leaves the house or is hiding in the house.

Due to his disabilities, Ben lacks impulse control. This once led to him falling out of the second-story window of their home and landing on the sidewalk. He had to be air-lifted to the hospital. He only sustained a concussion, two broken wrists and a broken nose, which Rebecca describes as a "miracle."

Ben will also leave the house without telling anyone. Rebecca said he is "like MacGyver" when it comes to finding ways out of the house. They fear that he will walk away with a stranger or get into someone's car. The dog will help them find him or alert them if he is trying to leave the house.

In addition, the dog will be Ben's responsibility. He will feed and walk the dog. The dog will also provide companionship and help to ease Ben's anxiety about being alone. They will also be able to play together, thus helping Ben to release some of his energy.

The family knows that a service dog will not replace parental supervision, however the dog will be another pair of eyes on Ben.

"It's one added safety precaution," Rebecca said. "To help (Ben) be the best he can be."

The Shonikers are using the Ohio-based nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability to get the dog. The group provides dogs for children with special needs and does not turn children away. They have received national attention for training dogs to assist with "invisible" disabilities.

A dog costs $22,000 to train and place with a family. 4 Paws for Ability asks each family to raise at least $13,000 through fundraising to qualify for a service dog. The difference is made up through donations and grants. So far, the family has raised a little more than $3,000.

Like most special needs families, they find that the expenses are tremendous due to doctors, medications and therapy.

They noticed that Ben was not hitting milestones around age one and have been seeing various doctors ever since.

In Ben's case, doctors are still working to find a unifying diagnosis to explain his multiple diagnoses. They have been working for six years.

Rebecca explains that they have most of the puzzle pieces, but they are looking for what puts them together.

"He's been through every test possible," Rebecca said. "We are still searching and hoping to find the answer."

The community has come together to help. The older kids in their neighborhood will often watch out for Ben and take care of him.

He just finished Kindergarten at Sardis Elementary. It is not their home school, based on geography, but it is a school that can accommodate him. His 9-year-old older sister, Samantha, also attends.

Ben has been "mainstreamed" into regular education classes. There is a support team, which Rebecca calls "Team Ben," in place to help him.

"They really have a great team that supports him," Rebecca said.

Rebecca often goes into schools to educate children about children with disabilities. She hopes to some day write a book and to help raise awareness about special needs children. She has done work with The Arc of Union County and is working to set up a summer camp for special needs children.

"(I am) looking at what the needs in the community are," Rebecca said. She is trying to fill those needs.

The family has planned several fundraisers and community events to help raise money for a "Furrever Friend" for Ben. They are planning a pizza fundraiser at Brooklyn Pizza Parlor in Indian Trail for July 12. In August, they are organizing an event they are calling "Ben-a-poolaza." They are currently seeking donations for the auction and vendors donations. Spivey Insurance is holding a softball tournament on July 27 that will benefit three families, including the Shonikers.

So far, Ben's older sister has raised the most money by going door-to-door. Other family members have made t-shirts with a picture of Ben.

"That's amazing," Rebecca said. "It's inspiring to other kids."

Samantha especially has become an advocate for her little brother and other children with disabilities.

Rebecca hopes that their story can help other families.

"There's a lot to be learned beyond our family about kids with disabilities," she said.

While Ben misses Zoe, he explained that she was in Heaven with his great-grandmother. He is excited about the prospect of getting a new dog, especially playing catch and going for walks. He is even helping to come up with names. So far Otis, Baldwin and Ike are contenders.

Currently, Ben cannot fall asleep in his room while he is by himself. He falls asleep in his parent's room and they move him to his bed. He said if the new dog sleeps in his bed, he might sleep in his room.

Rebecca has set up a Facebook page, "Furrever Friend for Ben Shoniker" to help keep people informed about their process and upcoming events.

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Click here to see the video aired on WSOC-TV on July 6!

Written by: Carolyn Steeves
Posted: Jun 30, 2012 by Jodi McConkey

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