THE UNDERDOGS tells the story of Karen Shirk: felled at age 24 by a neuromuscular disease and facing life as an immobile, deeply isolated and depressed, 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, dragged her back into life. “How many people are stranded like I was,” she wondered, “who could lead productive lives with a service dog?”
A thousand dogs later, Karen Shirk’s service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, is restoring broken children and their families to life. Melissa Fay Greene tells the stories of isolated children, struggling parents, and the marvelous dogs who gallop into their lives. Into these modern wonder tales, she weaves the latest scientific discoveries about the inner lives of dogs. It turns out that dogs really are doing the astounding things they appear to do, and they’re doing them for people they love. The frontiers of the human/dog bond are explored here with insight, compassion, humor, and joy. A cast of remarkable characters-scientists and felons, dog trainers and parents, children with disabilities and the great dogs themselves-together address questions about our attachment to dogs, what constitutes a productive life, and what can be accomplished with unconditional love.