Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 08/15/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Elizabeth Marshall Thomas


AS A YOUNG GIRL GROWING UP IN Cambridge, Mass., Elizabeth Marshall Thomas "ate, slept, dreamed and breathed" animals. In fact, the first book she wrote—at age 5—was about tigers. Cats were her earliest fascination.

"When I was little," she remembers, "we had two black cats, Lilith and Eve. Our house had cat doors, and the male cats would come in, and they all would gather in the basement. I would hear through the radiator their meowing, and I would go down and see all these eyes and forms up in the pipes. It was a place of enchantment that had nothing to do with anything human."

Today, Thomas lives in Peterborough, N.H., with her husband, three cats, three dogs and an Amazon parrot. Like the cats of her childhood, these animals come and go as they please. "Except at night," she says. "There's a great horned owl and a coyote that hunt in the field outside. They make it very dangerous, especially for our cats."

The cats compensate by hunting during the day. "They bring all sorts of creatures into the house and turn them loose to hunt. Snakes, frogs, mice, voles—it's a field biologist's dream," she explains. "We don't encourage it, but sometimes there's nothing we can do. You see, cats are hunting machines. If they weren't so sweet and beautiful, we'd probably never keep them as pets."

After publishing The Hidden Life of Dogs a year ago, was it difficult to start thinking about cats?

"It is harder to get into the mind of a cat than a dog," Thomas avers. "Dogs touch us with their need to belong to a group. They need us more than cats do, and we can feel that. Cats are more self-sufficient." Yet despite their independence, she marvels that cats willingly let us into their world, where we can rest with them in a moment of trust and understanding.

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