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The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love Hardcover – May 17, 2016
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“Greene has a remarkable way of taking a complex topic, dissecting it down to its basic components and holding up layers to the light where it’s seen anew. She applies that skill to the world of service dogs in her new book THE UNDERDOGS.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“The PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK author deftly relates the stirring stories of disabled children and the heroic dogs who serve them, illuminating the intricate inner lives of our canine friends.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“Brimming with the sweet, soulful journeys of courageous children and the dogs who become more than their best friends...beautifully written, scientifically rigorous, and filled with heartbreak and joy. It will make you think and feel differently about the kindness, compassion, and love between us and our dogs.” (Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, THE GENIUS OF DOGS)
“At last a real writer turns to children, love, and dogs, surely the three most important topics in life. Greene understands the extraordinary and still mysterious bond between dogs and children. THE UNDERDOGS is written with wit, with charm, and, above all, with genuine warmth. It is a miracle, truly.” (Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, DOGS NEVER LIE ABOUT LOVE)
“Melissa Fay Greene lends her trademark empathetic voice to this engrossing inside look at the work of 4 Paws for Ability, a service-dog academy...Greene, a master at telling the most human of stories, will still leave readers smiling. And dog lovers will adore this book.” (Booklist)
“Greene gives us a selection of deftly reported and illuminatingly researched stories that go much deeper than sentimental click bait...These are riveting...not just because Greene, a master of narrative, picked good ones, but because she explains just how these relationships work at both ends of the leash.” (Washington Post)
“Heartwarming stories of assistance dogs for kids with disabilities are woven amidst thoughtful discussions of how the human understanding of dogs has evolved over the years.” (Good Housekeeping)
“Dogs are pretty much the best living beings on the planet. For more proof, look no further than The UNDERDOGS...Melissa Fay Greene’s latest elegantly rendered and undeniably moving effort.” (Cincinnati City Beat)
From the Back Cover
The Underdogs tells the story of Karen Shirk: felled at age 24 by a neuromuscular disease and facing life as a ventilator-dependent patient, she was rejected by every service dog agency in the country as “too disabled.” Her nurse encouraged her to raise her own service dog, and Ben, a German shepherd revived her.
A thousand dogs later, Karen Shirk’s service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, is restoring hurting children and their families to life. Melissa Fay Greene tells the stories of children with disabilities, their struggling parents, and their marvelous dogs. Into these modern wonder tales, she weaves the latest scientific discoveries about the inner lives of dogs. The frontiers of the human/dog bond are explored here with insight, compassion, humor, and joy.
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The only thing I didn't like about it was that it was from a very neurotypical perspective and treated autism as a disease (there was even an oblique reference to autism as an "epidemic"), counter to what members of the autistic community advocate. Greene focused heavily on the parents of the autistic and health-compromised children, on how difficult it was for these parents and how their children's autism had ruined their lives. While the pain experienced by these parents is valid, I think it was overemphasized, especially because there was little attempt made to represent the perspectives of the children themselves; the children were never directly quoted speaking about their own experiences. I think that's a sad oversight and, unfortunately, all too common. This book had the potential to broaden the public's understanding of neurodiversity and help people see autistic individuals as people, not pathologies, but that potential was not realized. This book is much more about how the service dogs help the parents of autistic and health-compromised children than it is about the children's own experiences.
Overall, this is definitely a book worth reading, especially if you're considering getting a service dog for yourself or a loved one. However, readers should be critical of the neurotypical perspective and recognize that the emphasis on the parents' frustration, and lack of interviews with autistic people themselves, is a disservice to autistic people.