The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene
Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love

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As an unabashed champion of her furry protagonists, Greene tends toward magical thinking over evidence and emotional involvement over journalistic detachment. She even ultimately seems to endorse the "Lassie myth," the idea that a dog can fix everything, even while admitting that trainers go to lengths to dispel it.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

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.

 

About Melissa Fay Greene

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Melissa Fay Greene is the author of Praying for Sheetrock, The Temple Bombing, Last Man Out, and There Is No Me Without You. Two of her books have been finalists for the National Book Award, and New York University’s journalism department named Praying for Sheetrock one of the top one hundred works of journalism in the twentieth century. She has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, Life, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, and Salon, among others. She and her husband, Don Samuel, have nine children and live in Atlanta.
 
Published May 17, 2016 by Ecco. 352 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Crafts, Hobbies & Home, Parenting & Relationships, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Underdogs
All: 2 | Positive: 1 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good
on Mar 17 2016

Dog lovers, parents of special needs kids, and those who love feel-good stories will delight in these heartwarming portraits of dogs and their families.

Read Full Review of The Underdogs: Children, Dogs... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Star Tribune

Below average
Reviewed by Kurtis Scaletta on May 16 2016

As an unabashed champion of her furry protagonists, Greene tends toward magical thinking over evidence and emotional involvement over journalistic detachment. She even ultimately seems to endorse the "Lassie myth," the idea that a dog can fix everything, even while admitting that trainers go to lengths to dispel it.

Read Full Review of The Underdogs: Children, Dogs... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

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