Thursday, April 13, 2017
Posted by: Staci Bratcher
The Underdogs by Melissa Faye Greene
Melissa Faye Greene is known for her riveting narrative non-fiction. Her latest endeavor is a book that describes in beautiful detail the bond between service dogs and special needs children. The author chronicles the life of Karen Shirk, a woman who was felled by myasthenia gravis at age 24 and subsequently was rescued from life as a ventilator patient in a nursing home by a dog and a caring nurse. Karen had been turned down for a service dog by all of the large agencies because they evaluated her as too disabled to care for one of theirs. Karen came back to life by training her own service dog and decided that her new mission would be to make sure that anyone whose life could be enriched by a dog and could care for a dog would get one. She went on to became the first trainer to place service dogs with children
This book is a compilation of vignettes of the families and children whose lives were changed by the placement of the exquisitely trained dogs from 4 Paws For Ability. Descriptions of children with autism, reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and mitochondrial disease are heart-achingly accurate. Descriptions of the dogs and their abilities to disrupt tantrums, find a lost child, interrupt self-injury and soothe a child into sleeping through the night are awe inspiring…. and admittedly somewhat shame inducing for this owner of a naughty terrier. Ms. Greene reviews a body of research on dogs and their cognitive and emotional characteristics, including neuroscientific research by Dr. Gregory Berns at Emory. Sadly, we come to realize that Lassie had no real instinct to help Timmie and was just a well-trained, well-handled dog.
If you are looking for an uplifting book that reads easily and is of interest to psychologists, this is a good choice. I found it inspiring and the terrier can now “sit” if I have a treat in my hand.