New Nonfiction: The Underdogs – Melissa Fay

Greene is a great narrative nonfiction writer who has twice been a National Book Award finalist. She has written with insight and empathy on everything from race and domestic violence to coal miners and her own family. In The Underdogs she’s found another topic that’s perfect for her unique investigative reporting skills and ability to feel her way into the lives of others.

4 Paws for Ability trains service dogs in a small town outside of Cincinnati, OH. These dogs are specially matched and trained to work with children who are considered too disabled to be paired with service dogs by other major organizations. The results? Amazing.

Greene’s stories are moving; the science is fascinating. The result is a profound examination of our connection and partnership with animals. It’s hard to imagine the parent or animal lover who won’t be interested in this.

The NYT, Washington Post and People have all signed on to review.

Greene profiles 4 Paws founder Karen Shirk, who started the organization after overcoming a debilitating neuromuscular disorder with help from her German shepherd, Ben. She also outlines the organization’s current training regimens, including a program with a local prison where inmates train dogs with rehabilitative benefits for all involved. For the most part these are feel-good stories about the overcoming obstacles, but there are moments of heartbreak as well, and Greene relates these in unsparing detail. She astutely sums up the relationship between humans and canines: ‘There are… reaches of the human psyche accessible only when accompanied by dogs.’”
Publishers Weekly

 “[The children in this story] may have severe autism, been born premature with multiple ailments, or been raised in a foreign orphanage where they were severely neglected. All of them have had considerable luck in adapting to their circumstances with specially trained dogs at their sides. These dogs are available to the children thanks to Karen Shirk, who, in her 20s, was struck down by a debilitating neuromuscular disease that left her in a wheelchair and dependent on a service dog. After connecting deeply with her own dog, she began 4 Paws for Ability. Considering the case and each child’s specific needs, Shirk and her trainers match a dog to the special needs child, often with amazing results. At 4 Paws, the training is focused on the partnership between the child and the dog. As one trainer told Greene, ‘it’s not just what does the client need. It’s about how a dog can meet those needs in ways that are really fun and rewarding for the dog. Dogs love having important work to do, and being needed and involved every minute of the day. They flourish in their families.’”
Kirkus Reviews

The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love (9780062218513) by Melissa Fay Greene. $27.99 hardcover. 5/17/16 on sale.

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