Melissa Fay Greene, a two-time National Book Award Nonfiction finalist, is the author of six books of nonfiction, including The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love (Ecco).
The Underdogs tells the story of Karen Shirk, felled at age twenty-four by a neuromuscular disease and facing life as a ventilator-dependent, immobile patient, who was turned down by every service dog agency in the country because she was “too disabled.” Her nurse encouraged her to tone down the suicidal thoughts, find a puppy, and raise her own service dog. Karen did this, and Ben, a German shepherd, dragged her back into life. “How many people are stranded like I was,” she wondered, “who would lead productive lives if only they had a dog?” A thousand state-of-the-art dogs later, Karen Shirk’s service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, is restoring broken children and their families to life. The dogs dispatched to families around the globe by the Ohio-based service dog academy perform miracles of love and empathy. And yet current scientific research into the emotional and cognitive abilities of dogs suggests these are not “miracles” at all, because intelligence, devotion, and sensitivity are woven into the very nature of dogs. Written with characteristic insight, humanity, humor, and irrepressible joy, what could have been merely touching is a penetrating, compassionate exploration of larger questions: about our attachment to dogs, what constitutes a productive life, and what can be accomplished with unconditional love.
Greene has also been a contributor to NPR, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, LIFE, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Readers Digest, Ms., The Wilson Quarterly, Redbook, and CNN.com. Her honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 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, the Georgia Author Award, and a Dog Writers of America Award. Her books have been translated into 15 languages. She is a 2010 recipient of a doctorate of letters from Emory University, a 2011 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, and a 2015-2016 Guggenheim Fellow.
Praise for Melissa Fay Greene:
"Melissa Fay Greene kept us enthralled for the better part of an hour, laughing and crying. She is marvelous to listen to, her voice just pulls you in and you can't help but listen. Her slideshow, while unnecessary to keep listeners' attention, was like the icing on the cake, with all the captivating shots of animals being who they are, especially the dogs. We all loved that her own dog finished up the night. No one who attended that evening left without being touched somehow, I'm sure of it. I haven't stopped telling anyone who will listen about the service dogs and families she wrote about. If you get the chance to hear Melissa, be sure to take it."
--Kerith M. Lee, Cathedral Book Store
“Melissa Fay Greene’s book The Underdogs was the 2017 book selection for Roswell Reads, an annual community read event in a suburb north of Atlanta. The Steering Committee was thrilled with the author’s excellent talk, she proved to be as engaging a story teller in person as she is in print. Her powerpoint presentation was skillfully crafted to inform and inspire. The audience soaked it in, with tears, smiles, and outright laughter, topped by a standing ovation. Melissa was great to work with, very down-to-earth, cooperative and responsive— just a delightful person!”
--Judy Stanton, Chairman, 2017 Roswell Reads Steering Committee
“The Alliance Theatre produced a stage version of Melissa Fay Green’s novel, THE TEMPLE BOMBING. To our delight, Melissa participated in the theatre’s extensive community outreach surrounding the production which included panel discussions with over 600 in attendance, media interviews and production talk backs. Her positive impact and contributions were more than we could have ever hoped for. While we knew her to be a prolific writer, we had no idea her ability to connect with and captivate a live audience. She was funny and insightful and her extensive depth of knowledge new and surprising windows and doors into the narrative. She is a dynamic speaker.”
--Jody Feldman, Producer and Casting Director, Alliance Theatre
Praise for The Underdogs:
“Gorgeously written, sparklingly told, The Underdogs makes you want to leap up and cheer for the brilliant ways dogs help children with disabilities, for the hidden resiliency of kids and the courage of their parents, and for the powerful, enduring, and holy bond between humans and our oldest and dearest companion species. Thank God for dogs! And thank you, Melissa Fay Greene, for so compellingly illuminating their love and loyalty.”
--Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus (2015 National Book Award Nonfiction Finalist)
“Brimming with the sweet, soulful journeys of courageous children and the dogs who become more than their best friends, The Underdogs is 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, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals and 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 that has placed over a thousand dogs with those in need, particularly children. The stories Greene relates are devastating as she conveys the difficulties families face as they cope with severe autism, debilitating physical illness and injury, crippling anxiety and emotional conditions. She portrays parents at the ends of their ropes who feel hope (long relegated to the status of impossible dream) with these trained dogs. Greene describes the training facility, introduces its dedicated and talented staff, and presents before-and-after studies of several families. She also provides an historical overview of the relationship between dogs and humans. Acknowledging that exactly how and why these animals do so well with those in need remains a mystery, and asserting that no dog can make everything all better, Greene, a master at telling the most human of stories, will still leave readers smiling. And dog lovers will adore this book.”
-- Colleen Mondor, Booklist
“At 4 Paws, the training is focused on the partnership between the child and the dog. As one trainer told Greene, “it’s not just what does the client need. It’s about how a dog can meet those needs in ways that are really fun and rewarding for the dog. Dogs love having important work to do, and being needed and involved every minute of the day. They flourish in their families.” The author compassionately interweaves these personal successes with scientific facts about dogs, the bonding that occurs between a human and a dog, and the loss or grief a dog may feel if a child should die.”