Kennewick family raising money to buy service dog for autistic son

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldApril 7, 2013 

Tristen Chambers-Berry read the classic children's book Harry the Dirty Dog and began hankering for his own four-legged companion.

It turns out a specially trained pooch could be just what the 7-year-old Kennewick boy needs. Tristen has autism, and a service dog could help ease his interactions with others, calm him, keep him from running off in public places and find him if he wanders off.

A dog also could be a pal -- a furry friend for Tristen to snuggle with and draw comfort from.

"My husband and I were talking about it the other night -- a dog is not judgmental. They don't look for anything from you except love," said Amala Berry, Tristen's mom.

She and husband Ed Berry, a wide receiver for the Tri-Cities Fever, are working with the Ohio-based 4 Paws for Ability to secure Tristen a pup.

It's a spendy endeavor -- the nonprofit says the average price of a service dog is $22,000, including food, housing, training and vet care. Families generally are asked to raise $13,000; that's the amount Tristen's family is striving for.

Amala Berry said her family hopes to have the dog at home with Tristen this year. A service dog would improve their quality of life, she said.

Tristen is bright but has a speech delay and struggles to express himself, his mom said. "He wants to make friends but doesn't know how," she said, adding a dog could help him feel more comfortable and be a conversation-starter.

A pooch also could calm and redirect him during meltdowns, which have been more frequent since the family recently relocated to Kennewick.

And -- especially important, his mom said -- a service dog would help keep Tristen safe in public. The boy and the dog would be tethered, so "no more of this bolting (off)," Amala Berry said. "If he did get away, the dog would be trained to track him. I'd give (the dog) his scent and say, 'Go get our boy.' "

Tristen seems to be a ball of energy. He played at home last week, switching from a Pixar move -- he's a devotee -- to a train set in his bedroom.

He watched the train cars motor around, enthralled. He bounced around and at one point tossed a video game controller in the air, catching it.

"Nice catch!" he said -- one of the few phrases he spoke during the visit.

Tristen loves trains and electronics and his little sister, Isabella, 11/2.

He's a great big brother and became more verbal when she came along, his mom said.

He can't wait for a new addition to the family -- a service dog. "He's always asking (about the dog)," Amala Berry said. When he sees pooches around town, "he tells us, 'buy it, buy it!' I say, 'We're working on it. It's coming.' "

-- To help:

-- Send a check to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, OH 45385, with Tristen's name in the memo line.

-- Donations also can be made online at www.4PawsForAbility.org/donate-now by clicking on the PayPal link and including Tristen's name in "instructions to merchant."

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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