From two-time National Book Award nominee Melissa Fay Greene comes a profound and surprising account of dogs on the front lines of rescuing both children and adults from the trenches of grief, emotional, physical, and cognitive disability, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Underdogs tells the story of Karen Shirk, felled at age twenty-four by a neuromuscular disease and facing life as a ventilator-dependent, immobile patient, who was turned down by every service dog agency in the country because she was “too disabled.” Her nurse encouraged her to tone down the suicidal thoughts, find a puppy, and raise her own service dog. Karen did this, and Ben, a German shepherd, dragged her back into life. “How many people are stranded like I was,” she wondered, “who would lead productive lives if only they had a dog?”
A thousand state-of-the-art dogs later, Karen Shirk’s service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, is restoring broken children and their families to life. Long shunned by scientists as a manmade, synthetic species, and oft- referred to as “Man’s Best Friend” almost patronizingly, dogs are finally paid respectful attention by a new generation of neuroscientists and animal behaviorists. Melissa Fay Greene weaves the latest scientific discoveries about our co-evolution with dogs with Karen’s story and a few exquisitely rendered stories of suffering children and their heartbroken families.
Written with characteristic insight, humanity, humor, and irrepressible joy, what could have been merely touching is a penetrating, compassionate exploration of larger questions: about our attachment to dogs, what constitutes a productive life, and what can be accomplished with unconditional love.
Melissa Fay Greene
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Here’s the thing: while Melissa Faye Greene’s newest book, "The Underdogs," is filled with anecdotes about wonderful dogs, their trainers and owners, and the children they save, it is so much more than that. It’s an amazing crossover book with something—quite literally—for everyone. There are, of course, the dogs; there’s the fascinating story of their subtle intelligence and their new role as guardians of children with autism and other striking debilities; and then there’s Ms. Greene’s own role as a most compassionate observer. She’s a remarkable guide, taking us through a universe in which we are beginning to see ourselves less as masters and more as fellow-creatures. There’s a wealth of arresting detail that she synthesizes with humor and skill, and, finally, we find that we have joined the book’s families. Like them, we are left moved—even changed—by what this book and its writer have revealed to...
I swear Melissa Greene could write about sawdust and make it thrilling, but in Underdogs she has a sublime subject to match her captivating writing. I am an avid reader, and It is not often that a substantive non-fiction book is so entertaining, so moving, and so beautifully written. I laughed out loud numerous times, and fell in love with the dogs, the children and the families she profiles. In fact, her writing is so fresh and lively, there is not a boring moment in this book. But the biggest gift of the book is that it is truly inspiring without being in the least sentimental or simplistic. It became for me a potent antidote to the world news and the stresses of my day. It worked so well to lift my spirits that I didn't want it to end. It is one of those books, I would read again when I need a convincing reminder of the power of love.
This book drew me in almost immediately. The stories in this book of damaged people whose lives have been totally turned around by wonderful, properly trained, loving dogs is so powerful and hopeful. The woman who founded 4 Paws 4 Ability is a true heroine who once she found her lifeline with a magnificent dog, worked wonders for others, tore down walls and did not take not for an answer. Bravo, Karen Shirk. I wish there were more in the world like you. And the dogs. I have always loved animals, but the dogs in this book are incredible and make you look into the eyes of your own "Lassie" to see how special they are. I thought the book might be drier with "dog" science in it, but each section on science or history is paired with with a personal story of how it works now for individuals, dogs and families
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