cover image The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love

The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love

Melissa Fay Greene. . HarperCollins/Ecco, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-221851-3

Expanding on an article written for the New York Times Magazine in 2012, Greene (Praying for Sheetrock) shares uplifting stories from families who have benefited from service animals provided by 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit dog training academy. The Ericksons were in terror over their autistic son’s disappearances before acquiring Juke, a Labrador trained to track him. When a golden retriever named Chancer is placed with the Winokurs to help their emotionally unstable son, he becomes the first dog ever assigned to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. The Millards were denied dogs by other agencies because of son Connor’s tracheal tube and ventilator; then 4 Paws brought them Casey, a devoted goldendoodle who helped the six-year-old come out of his fearful shell. Green 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 Green 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.” Agent: David Black, David Black Literary Agency. (May)