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

    By: Melissa Fay Greene

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    Two-time National Book Award finalist Melissa Fay Greene tells the inspiring story of Karen Shirk-the founder of 4 Paws, a pioneering service-dog-training school in rural Ohio-and the joyful results of her efforts to connect lonely, challenged children and their families with loving service dogs. Through moving stories and cutting edge science, Fay Greene offers us a profound examination of our connection and partnership with animals. Any dog owner will tell you: the connection they have with their pet is intimate, nuanced, and certainly more profound than science and culture generally acknowledge. Our dogs are more than our best friends: they're our emotional and intellectual partners whose distinct personalities consistently surprise and delight us. No one agrees with this more than Karen Shirk. After struggling with a rare neuromuscular disease at 24 but being unable to secure a service dog from a reputable agency, Shirk found companionship, hope, and support in Ben-the chocolate Labrador she adopted and had trained herself. As Ben helped her cope with her disease and brought her back to life, Karen was inspired to help other people who weren't eligible for service dogs-mostly children-find companionship and support with carefully trained dogs. In 1998, Karen founded 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization that places dogs with emotionally and physically challenged children. In THE UNDERDOGS, Melissa Fay Greene-twice nominated for the National Book Award and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award-looks at some of the pairings Shirk has made and tells the extraordinary stories of the dogs who have brought children, and their families, back to a joyful engagement with life. Seamlessly weaving together Karen's story, the stories of parents and children whose lives were changed by 4 Paws, and recent scientific discoveries about canine intellectual and emotional capacity, Fay Greene tackles age-old questions-Do animals think and feel? What does our connection to animals consist of?-from a fresh vantage point, and casts a new light on the magnetic and mysterious connection between man and dog. The success stories of these dogs and their owners also highlight the wonders of the dog mind and heart. Dogs can predict everything from tantrums to seizures twenty-four hours in advance. With their non-judgmental affection, these dogs go beyond medical alarms to open up inhibited, closed-off children and allow them to interact with the world with warmth and trust. Like Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree, Melissa Fay Greene's exploration of children with disabilities reframes larger questions about identity, family, and the triumph of unconditional love over what some would see as crippling disability. Compassionately observed and exquisitely told, THE UNDERDOGS marshals expert storytelling and innovative new science to explore the abiding connection between us and our four-legged best friends.

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