The Underdogs


Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love

There are children so isolated—as a result of illness, disability, or calamity—as to seem unreachable.

But a profoundly solitary child may give friendship a try if the playmate and helper who shows up is a service dog.

The dogs dispatched to families around the globe by the non-profit Ohio-based service dog academy, 4 Paws for Ability, 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.


“In THE UNDERDOGS, Greene gives us a selection of deftly reported and illuminatingly researched stories that go much deeper than sentimental click bait, documenting the powerful ways dogs are helping reach some of the most vulnerable among us: children with disabilities… These are riveting stories not just because Greene, a master of narrative, picked good ones, but because she explains just how these relationships work at both ends of the leash. It’s not all feel-good Facebook fodder — there is one particularly unsparing tale of utter heartbreak here — but they’re important and revelatory stories. Greene invites us not to just marvel at the hero dogs, but understand them a little better, too.”
–Kerry Lauerman, “Amazing Dogs that Change the Lives of Children with Disabilities,”The Washington Post, 5-29-16

“The Praying for Sheetrock author deftly relates the stirring stories of disabled children and the heroic dogs who serve them, illuminating the intricate inner lives of our canine friends.”
O, The Oprah Magazine, “10 Titles to Pick Up NOW,” June 2014

“Dogs are pretty much the best living beings on the planet. For more proof, look no further than The Underdogs, Melissa Fay Greene’s latest elegantly rendered and undeniably moving book.”
–Cincinnati CityBeat

“Greene has a remarkable way of taking a complex topic, dissecting it down to its basic components and holding up layers to the light where it’s seen anew. She applies that skill to the world of service dogs in her new book, The Underdogs.”
­–Atlanta Journal Constitution, May 8, 2016

“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, May 2016

“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.”
Kirkus Review, 4/1/16

THE UNDERDOGS video was created by Seth Samuel & Alyssa Kapnik Samuel