The Underdogs

The Underdogs

by Melissa Fay Greene

Overview: 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.

The Underdogs was selected as the 2017 Roswell Reads book for the community read!

Roswell Reads Committee --- WHY WE PICKED THIS BOOK (01/14/17):

Faith Bowers (09/04/16): I enjoyed the book as well as others who recommended the book. I thought there was a bit too much history of the lack of science regarding how important dogs have been to humans. The stories were great and they did start and stop but it was nice to have an ending to each needy child Melissa wrote about. Karen Shirk who started 4 Paws for Ability is an amazing person who also went through her own trauma.
Rating: ***

Debbie Weiss (09/02/16): What a great story! Dogs are truly amazing animals and they can do wonderful things. Not only do they provide love and support and companionship, but if trained properly, they can become guardians for "fragile" people, individuals with physical or mental health issues. Each chapter describes the nature of particular child's limitations and the hand-picked canine that "rescued" the child. Two families in the book are local families, one of whom I have met. This is an inspiring book and a very uplifting read.
Rating: ****+

Linda Smither (08/27/16): I really enjoyed this book. The love people to show to people and dogs to people and people to dogs, make it a tear jerker, but in a heart warming way. I learned a lot about service dogs and disabilities. The story jumps around and I got a little lost at times, but that may be because I listened to the audio version.
Rating: ****

Judy Stanton (08/19/16): The subtitle of this book says it all: Children, Dogs and the Power of Unconditional Love. What's not to love? At the heart of the book is the story behind the formation of 4 Paws for Ability, a service dog academy that trains dogs to help children with disabilities of all sorts and their families. You don't have to be a parent for your heart to go out to those who care for children whose mental and physical issues require super human patience, strength and fortitude. And you don't have to own a dog to be amazed by the friendship, love and guardianship dogs bring into a needy child's life. The book intersperses scientific discoveries about the inner lives of dogs as well as interesting stories about dogs in the prison system and the military. Underdogs left me with a greater appreciation of how much dogs can accomplish and how much their presence impacts people.
Rating: *****-

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