Melissa Fay Greene is the author of five books of nonfiction: Praying for Sheetrock, The Temple Bombing, Last Man Out, There Is No Me Without You, and No Biking in the House Without A Helmet. Twice nominated for the National Book Award and short-listed for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Greene has received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the ACLU National Civil Liberties Award, the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award, the Salon Book Award, Elle Magazine’s Readers’ Prize, and a Dog Writers of America Award. Praying For Sheetrock was named one of the top 100 works of American journalism of the 20th century and appears on Entertainment Weekly‘s list of “The New Classics–The 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years.”
Currently a Guggenheim Fellow, Greene has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post, among many other publications, and has been a frequent guest on CNN and on a wide range of NPR programs. Several of her articles have been adapted as feature stories on TV newsmagazines and two of the subjects of her articles (including Karen Shirk) have been CNN Heroes of the Year. Greene’s books have been translated into 15 languages; Praying for Sheetrock is under development for a cable TV series, and The Temple Bombing is being adapted as a stage play by the prominent Alliance Theater of Atlanta. She has taught literary nonfiction as a visiting writer at Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Emory, and other universities.
In The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love, two-time National Book Award finalist Melissa Fay Greene shares extraordinary stories of dogs bringing children with disabilities and their families new levels of engagement with the world, independence, and self-worth. She explores these often Lassie-like canine miracles by the light of the latest findings in neuroscience and animal behavior.
4 Paws was founded in the 1990s against all odds: in an era during which the intelligence of dogs was discounted by most scientists (though not by dog-lovers), service dog academies refused to place dogs with children, andservice dogs were often denied to people deemed “too disabled” and “not likely to make a positive contribution to society.” The founder of 4 Paws, Karen Shirk, confined to her nursing home bed and ventilator for years by a rare neuromuscular disease, was denied by every service dog agency. When she grew depressed and suicidal, she trained her own service dog; Ben, a black German Shepherd, rescued her in every possible way. She decided to start with training five dogs a year and placing them with people, especially children, rejected by the big agencies. That was about a thousand dogs ago.
Since then, 4 Paws has grown into the nation’s largest organization whose primary mission is to place dogs with children affected by autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, attachment disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, seizure disorders, Down Syndrome, dwarfism, and other challenges. “The dogs are trained ‘service dogs’ of course,” Greene writes, “but something deeper happens between a dog (who has no idea he or she is a ‘service dog’) and a child (who may not know that he or she is ‘disabled’) than is suggested by that term.”
Into these poignant, inspiring case studies, Greene weaves the latest scientific discoveries about our co-evolution with dogs and about the cognitive and emotional capacities of our four-legged friends. Written with this acclaimed writer’s characteristic insight, humanity, humor, and irrepressible joy, what could have been merely a touching account of a worthwhile nonprofit becomes a penetrating, compassionate exploration of larger questions: about our attachment to dogs, about what constitutes a productive life, and about what can be accomplished with unconditional love.