A furrever friend for Ben

Community rallies to raise money for service dog for child

by Josh Whitener

Ben Shoniker, seen here with a foster dog, is in need of a real service dog to not only keep him company, but to keep him safe. The 7-year-old boy needs constant supervision, and try as hard as they can, Ben’s parents could use a little backup. That’s where 4 Paw for Ability comes in. If the family can raise enough money through a couple upcoming fundraisers, they’ll be able to get a new, safe friend for their son. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Shoniker

Seven-year-old Ben Shoniker is touching lives throughout the area, uniting friends and neighbors, community members and local businesses who are all pitching in to help raise $13,000 to buy him a service dog.

Ben’s parents knew he was different pretty early on. He wasn’t hitting developmental milestones by the time he turned 1, and six months later started having grand mal seizures.

Six years of endless tests and visits to numerous specialists determined Ben has a combination of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, sensory integration, epilepsy, a growth hormone deficiency, a neurological speech disorder, a sleep disorder and developmental delays. Although Ben’s parents, Jim and Rebecca Shoniker, believe there’s a hidden condition unifying these disorders, the discovery of such has yet to be made.

“We don’t know why he has all of these things, but (the doctors) feel it’s not a coincidence,” his mom said. “We have all these pieces of the puzzle, but we’re still missing some pieces and we have to figure out how they come together.”

What Ben lacks developmentally, he more than makes up for in spirit. With fiery energy and a face that’s always smiling, Ben knows how to make new friends by hugging them the moment he meets them. He can scale heights with the strength of Spiderman. And he knows all the street smarts other kids use to manipulate their parents into letting them get their way – which Jim and Rebecca say doesn’t always work.

The main problem is the concern for Ben’s safety. Because of the plethora of challenges he faces, Ben has no impulse control. There have been times he’s run out of the house, ending up in a neighbor’s yard or across the street. He’s hidden in the house while his parents have frantically searched for him.

“The hiding is extremely scary because you don’t know if he’s inside or outside,” his dad said. “We don’t know, because he doesn’t answer.”

And, most alarmingly, he fell 20 feet out of an upstairs window onto the Shonikers’ driveway last year, luckily ending up with only two broken wrists, a broken nose and a concussion. “It really is a miracle,” his mom said of him surviving the fall.

No matter what precautions his parents take to prevent Ben from escaping or putting himself in danger, he always finds a loophole. He’s used his street smarts to remove locks from windows and doors. He’s even used his Spiderman strength to scale the garage and open the door. “We don’t even shower when the other (parent) is not in the house,” Rebecca Shoniker said.

Concerned for Ben’s safety, and having experienced just last week the loss of their 15-year-old family dog, Jim and Rebecca turned to an organization called “4 Paws for Ability,” which provides special-needs children with a “Furrever Friend” – a service dog specially trained to meet the child’s needs.

The Furrever Friend would be trained to stay with Ben at all times, recognize situations that jeopardize Ben’s safety and alert those around that Ben is in danger. The dog also would be trained to track Ben should he escape and disappear. And, of course, the dog would be a dedicated and loving companion Ben can interact with and learn from.

The entire cost for a service dog is $22,000 and the Shoniker’s are responsible for raising $13,000 of that cost for 4 Paws for Ability. The organization will cover the rest of the cost for the dog.

One of the first things the Shoniker’s did was establish a Facebook page “Furrever Friend for Ben Shoniker.” Those in the social media community can “like” the page, share it with others and donate safely via a PayPal link. All funds go directly to 4 Paws for Ability.

So far, the Shoniker’s have raised a little more than $4,000 just through donations and publicity via word of mouth. But the family is gearing up for three major community fundraiser projects aimed at helping Ben get his Furrever Friend.

On Thursday, July 12, Brooklyn Pizza will host a fundraiser night for Ben, donating a portion of the proceeds to 4 Paws for Ability in Ben’s name. Over the weekend of July 27, the local Spivey Insurance company will host a softball tournament, dividing the funds raised between the Shoniker’s and two other local families.

And on the afternoon of Aug. 11, a Saturday, the Shoniker’s plan to host Benapalooza, a large-scale fundraiser that will be held at Sardis Elementary, 4416 Sardis Church Road, in Monroe, where Ben and his 10-year-old sister currently attend. The event will feature inflatable bounce houses, water slides, ice cream, food, other refreshments and a raffle auction. In addition, local businesses can advertise and sell products and donate a portion of the proceeds toward Ben’s Furrever Friend.

More than anything, the Shoniker’s hope to spread awareness about Ben and his need for a Furrever Friend. “We understand that everybody can’t make a financial donation, but maybe there’s something else,” his mom said. “If you can share it with someone else or your company, maybe they have a service they can donate, you know. It doesn’t always have to be monetary. It’s just spreading the cause and awareness.”

For more information on how you can help, visit www.facebook.com/-FurreverFriendForBenShoniker or email rebecca@writingwithrebecca.com.

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