Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

ELizabeth Marshall Thomas

One of the most widely read American anthropologists, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has observed dogs, cats, and elephants during her half-century-long career. In the 1980s Thomas studied elephants alongside Katy Payne—the scientist who discovered elephants' communication via infrasound. In 1993 Thomas wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, a groundbreaking work of animal psychology that spent nearly a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Her book on cats, Tribe of Tiger, was also an international bestseller. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, on her family's former farm, where she observes deer, bobcats, bear, and many other species of wildlife.

The Hidden Life of Deer

Lessons from the Natural World

Harper Collins, 2009

The animal kingdom operates by ancient rules, and the deer in our woods and backyards can teach us many of them -- but only if we take the time to notice.

In the fall of 2007 in southern New Hampshire, the acorn crop failed and the animals who depended on it faced starvation. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas began leaving food in small piles around her farmhouse. Soon she had over thirty deer coming to her fields, and her naturalist's eye was riveted. How did they know when to come, all together, and why did they sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete?

Throughout the next twelve months she observed the local deer families as they fought through a rough winter; bred fawns in the spring; fended off coyotes, a bobcat, a bear, and plenty of hunters; and made it to the next fall when the acorn crop was back to normal. As she hiked through her woods, spotting tree rubbings, deer beds, and deer yards, she discovered a vast hidden world. Deer families are run by their mothers. Local families arrange into a hierarchy. They adopt orphans; they occasionally reject a child; they use complex warnings to signal danger; they mark their territories; they master local microclimates to choose their beds; they send countless coded messages that we can read, if only we know what to look for.

Just as she did in her beloved books The Hidden Life of Dogs and Tribe of Tiger, Thomas describes a network of rules that have allowed earth's species to coexist for millions of years. Most of us have lost touch with these rules, yet they are a deep part of us, from our ancient evolutionary past. The Hidden Life of Deer is a narrative masterpiece and a naturalist's delight.

The Old Way

A Story of the First People

Picador, 2007

One of our most influential anthropologists reevaluates her long and illustrious career by returning to her roots -- and the roots of life as we know it

When Elizabeth Marshall Thomas first arrived in Africa to live among the Kalahari San, or bushmen, it was 1950, she was 19 years old, and these last surviving hunter-gatherers were living as humans had lived for 15,000 centuries. Thomas wound up writing about their world in a seminal work, The Harmless People (1959). It has never gone out of print.

Back then, this was uncharted territory and little was known about our human origins. Today, our beginnings are better understood. And after a lifetime of interest in the bushmen, Thomas has come to see that their lifestyle reveals great, hidden truths about human evolution.

As she displayed in her bestseller, The Hidden Life of Dogs, Thomas has a rare gift for giving voice to the voices we don't usually listen to, and helps us see the path that we have taken in our human journey. In The Old Way, she shows how the skills and customs of the hunter-gatherer share much in common with the survival tactics of our animal predecessors. And since it is "knowledge, not objects, that endure" over time, Thomas vividly brings us to see how linked we are to our origins in the animal kingdom.

The Old Way is a rare and remarkable achievement, sure to stir up controversy, and worthy of celebration.

The Tribe of Tiger

Cats and Their Culture

Pocket Books, 2001

From the plains of Africa to her very own backyard, noted author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas explores the world of cats, both large and small in this classic bestseller. Inspired by her own feline's instinct to hunt and supported by her studies abroad, Thomas examines the life actions, as well as the similarities and differences of these majestic creatures. Lions, tigers, pumas and housecats: Her observations shed light on their social lives, thought processes, eating habits, and communication techniques, and reveal how they survive and coexist with each other and with humans.

Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat

Understanding and Caring for the Tiger Within

New Line Books, 2001

"A cat is a lion in a jungle of small bushes."
--English proverb

Why do cats always land on their feet after a fall? What allows a sleeping cat to comfortably curl into a circle? Why do cats appear to torture their prey before killing it? Why does your cat knead on your clothing? Just how much attention do cats really require?

To answer these and other questions, Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat draws from science, history, and feline behavior in the wild to explain the inner nature and most puzzling characteristics of America's most popular pet. The result is a practical and fascinating guide to understanding and caring for these beguiling and enigmatic creatures.

This engagingly illustrated book takes the same cat's-eye view of the world that infuses the Discovery Channel television series Wild Discovery. It emphasizes the untamed roots of almost every aspect of a domesticated cat's conduct: the crouch-and-pounce string-chase games that mirror stalking prey in the wild, the furniture-scratching preoccupation that echoes the territorial scent deposits a wild cat claws onto trees. Written in an accessible, authoritative style, Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat generously mixes the fundamentals of basic care with compelling explorations into cats' physical and psychological traits.

Included in this comprehensive primer are detailed insights into all aspects of cat design, from the intricate structure of the feline form to the cat's heightened senses and remarkable agility. The guide explores why cats do the things they do--addressing such issues as grooming, sleep patterns, marking and defending territory, cat language, and learning and intelligence.

In addition to probing the tiger within, Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat offers a host of practical tips on choosing a cat to suit your lifestyle, providing responsible care, cat-proofing your home, and ensuring a smooth transition during the first days at home. Once the cat is a member of the family, the book explains how to bond and play with your new pet, and even how to train and travel with it.

Everything you need to know to keep your cat healthy and happy is covered, including the latest information on feeding and nutrition, litter boxes, cleaning and grooming, common health problems, fighting fleas, pregnancy and birth, caring for an aging cat, vet visits, and emergency care.

A breed breviary rounds out the book, with the spotlight on the top cat breeds as well as other common feline pedigrees. This section also presents information on body type, common colors, coat type, grooming requirements, and temperament. An informative cat owner's resource guide follows.

Accompanied by more than 225 full-color illustrations and photographs showing the similarities between domestic and wild cats, this is an entertaining and insightful approach to feline behavior, pet care, and appreciation for first-time cat owners and veteran cat lovers alike.

Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog

Understanding and Caring for the Wolf Within

Trafalgar Square, 2001

"How much better we would be as dog
owners if we knew who dogs really are and
understood what motivates them."
--from the Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Why are dogs typically so devoted to their human companions? What is "pack mentality," and what does it have to do with your dog? How did breeds as different as Great Danes and dachshunds evolve? What kind of dog is best for a household with small children?

From barking to marking, wet noses to wagging tails,Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog answers the most puzzling questions you've ever had about these most companionable animals. In the spirit of the Discovery Channel television series Wild Discovery, this book delves into the heart of dog behavior, every beat of which is, in fact, an echo of the wolf ancestors in each dog's bloodline. You'll recognize the wolf's defense of territory in your dog's wild barking at every passing postal worker, and see wolf-pack hierarchy in the domestic dog's devotion to his human master.

Written in an accessible, authoritative style,Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog breaks through "smart dog, dumb dog" misconceptions, instead offering fascinating insights into dog learning, language, and intelligence, all factors influenced by the legacy of the wild dog within.

This book is also packed with practical tips on the fundamentals of dog care, particularly as they relate to your dog's breed, his heightened senses, and the various life stages through which he'll pass. Included is expert advice on choosing a dog to suit your lifestyle, caring responsibly for your pet, dog-proofing your home, and ensuring a smooth transition and proper bonding during the first days at home. Once the dog is a member of your family, this useful guide explains how best to play with him, keep him safe, and even train him and travel with him.

Everything you need to know to keep your dog healthy and happy is covered, including feeding and nutrition, cleaning and grooming, common health problems, fighting fleas, pregnancy and birth, caring for an aging dog, vet visits, and emergency care.

A detailed breed breviary rounds out the book. The spotlight is on each of the fifty most popular dog pedigrees: its origin, life expectancy, coat type, grooming requirements, size, activity level, and temperament. An informative dog owner's resource guide follows.

Generously illustrated with more than 225 appealing, full-color photographs showing the striking similarities between domestic and wild dogs, Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog will strike the fancy of first-time dog owners and veteran dog lovers alike.

The Social Lives of Dogs

The Grace of Canine Company

Pocket, 2001

In her absorbing bestseller, The Hidden Life of Dogs,Elizabeth Marshall Thomas provided fascinating answers to the question, "What do dogs want?" It turns out that more than anything, they want the company of other dogs. Now, in this frank and moving sequel, she explores how, despite this desire, they have beautifully adapted to life with their human owners. If they can't belong to a group with similar dogs, they will establish or join one with other members of the household, whether those members are men, women, children, other dogs of different ages and breeds, cats, or birds. And, contrary to our assumptions that we wield the power in our relationships with our dogs, it is they who are teaching us new behaviors -- even settling disputes in ways we are unaware of.

No one writing today about dogs and people has Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's skills as a classically trained anthropologist and popularizer. What she has observed and analyzed will be illuminating to all of us who have wondered about our pets' behavior. Do dogs have different barks that mean different things? How does Snoopy recognize as family people he sees only once a year? And why does Misty bark at strangers she sees every day? What factors contribute to making a dog difficult to house-train? Why do certain dogs and cats get along so well? How do animals train each other?

Thomas explores these questions by taking us into the mixed-species groups of her own household, particularly the lives of her remarkable dogs, with their differences in breeding, early training, and personality. Misty, a purebred, had been kept in a crate, alone, for most of her first year; lonely and insecure, she was afraid of grass and stairs, which she had never seen. Ruby was abandoned, having been pronounced untrainable. Pearl had lived with Thomas's son in his large household, and on her arrival at Thomas's house, she behaved like the well-mannered, self-possessed being she was. And Sundog, the most loyal, self-confident, courageous of all, accepted the arrival of each of these new dogs, but had made a group consisting of himself and Thomas's husband, so the others sorted themselves out without him. Each of these dogs, like any other, wanted more than anything to belong to a group, and how they organized themselves into felicitous relationships without any input from their owners is the most compelling of Elizabeth Thomas's many findings.

Few dogs get to live with their chosen loved ones; they are slaves to our desires. We convince ourselves, however wrongly, that we know what's best for them.The Social Lives of Dogs presents marvelous evidence of the power of the group. And those of us fortunate enough to be given the trust of any honorable dog will have our lives enlarged.

Certain Poor Shepherds

A Christmas Tale

Simon & Schuster, 1996

"On the first Christmas, so say the Christians, a redeemer was born to save our kind from the consequences of our greed, waste, pride, cruelty, and arrogance. No redeemer appeared for the animals; however, none was needed. The animals were much the same then as they are now, just as God made them, perfect according to his plan..."

So begins this resonant tale by one of our most gifted story tellers and most perceptive animal watchers, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. When an unusual star appears on the horizon one clear winter night, among those drawn to its bright promise are two shepherds -- that is, a dog named Lila and Ima, a goat. Therein lies an adventure, and Thomas's departure from the familiar story treasured by generations. With their flock, the animals journey to Bethlehem and home again, witnesses to a redemption of which they have no need.

Yet as they make their way, encountering danger and opportunity, their journey becomes an extraordinary meditation, moving but unsentimental, on the nature of freedom and the state of natural grace in a world ruled by the power-and frailty-of humankind.

The Hidden Life of Dogs

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

Long before the Dog Whisperer, anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas revealed to readers the nature of pack dynamics, leading to a completely new understanding of dogs and their desires.

In this fascinating account, based on thirty years of living with and observing dogs, we meet Misha, a friend's husky, whom Thomas followed on his daily rounds of more than 130 square miles, and who ultimately provided the simple and surprising answer to the question What do dogs want most? Not food, not sex, but other dogs. We also meet Maria, who adored Misha, bore his puppies, and clearly mourned when he moved away; the brave pug Bingo and his little wife, Violet; the dingo Viva; and the remaining dogs and pups that constitute the pack.

"Instead of training and obedience, [Thomas] offers as an alternative a world of 'trust and mutual obligation'" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). When it was first published in hardcover, The Hidden Life of Dogs spent over a year on the New York Times Bestseller list. This Mariner paperback edition will include a new afterword by the author.


The Hidden Life of Deer:

Lessons from the Natural World

"In this slim and amiable book Ms. Thomas gathers a pile of small, not uninteresting observations about deer, and in doing so she subtly alters the way you look at them in a forest or from a window."
-- New York Times



The Old Way: A Story of the First People

From Publishers Weekly
In 1950, Thomas (The Hidden Life of Dogs), at 19, joined her civil engineer father, her ballerina mother (who would become a celebrated anthropologist) and her brother on a life-changing expedition into southwest Africa's Kalahari Desert to live among the Ju/wasi Bushmen. Less a rigorous anthropological study than a loving, nostalgic ode to a self-sustaining culture of hunter-gatherers, this book recounts their now extinct way of life. The Ju/wasi used ostrich eggs to hold more than a day's water supply to expand their foraging range, and burned dry grass to encourage the growth of green grass, thus attracting large antelopes and other prey. The Ju/wasi allowed polygamy and divorce, welcomed baby girls as much as baby boys and treated children with unfailing kindness, but practiced infanticide on children born to nursing mothers because, with their low-fat diet, they could produce enough milk for only one child. In recent decades, the Bushmen have been removed from their land and their way of life has been obliterated by modernity, racism, poverty, alcoholism and AIDS. Thomas offers readers a glimpse of how our prehistoric ancestors undoubtedly lived, worked, loved and played. Photos from the Marshall family album freeze the Ju/wasi in the happy 1950s.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post
Last year, while traveling through the Kalahari, I stopped for the night at a cluster of huts, encircled by cactus and low thorny scrub. The leader of the hamlet, a fine-boned San warrior, thanked me for making the journey to his world. He invited me inside, and we sat down in the darkness of his one-room home. When we were comfortable, I said it had long been my dream to see for myself the ancient ways of the San.
"You are too late," he replied. "Everything has changed."
"When did it change?"
The warrior pushed himself up on his stick and thought for a moment.
"A lifetime ago," he said.

The San people of the Kalahari, a vast desert region (120,000 square miles) in southwest Africa, have sometimes been ridiculed for their simplicity, their naiveté and their gentleness. (The tribe got the world's attention back in 1980 with the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy," in which an ordinary Coca-Cola bottle lands in one village, with catastrophic results.) . They possess a kind of refinement that is almost impossible to describe. Historically, their lives have never been cramped with consumer goods or supercharged by self-induced stress. Instead, they lived in a world that respected the elements above and the dry soil beneath. They walked lightly on the Earth.

Throughout the 20th century, the San were a beacon of light, shining back to an ancient time . . . that of our own ancestors. By learning about them, we were able to learn about ourselves. It sounds simple: You found a so-called primitive tribe, you studied it, and you concluded that what they are and what we were are the same. But it's not that simple at all. It takes an anthropologist blessed with extraordinary sensitivity and foresight to understand how the chain has worked. And it takes a greater one still to break it down into bite-sized chunks and feed it to laymen.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is one of the most important champions of the San "Bushmen." She has spent a lifetime gently alerting us to their cause -- and to the fact that we have not only polluted the planet but have wrecked the delicate balance of tribal Africa as well.

At the age of 19, Thomas traveled to Botswana with her parents and her brother and lived with the Ju/wasi tribe of Bushmen. Her father, Laurence, was a civil engineer, and her mother, Lorna, became a respected anthropologist, writing a seminal work on the !Kung San. Thomas turned her early feelings and experiences of the Kalahari into a book entitled The Harmless People (1959), a work that has not been out of print since.

Now, with a lifetime on which to reflect, she has published The Old Way, a work of impressive scholarship and, more important, a book that connects the dots linking us to the first stages of the human race. And how many dots there are! Thomas explains our human ancestry by citing the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins's illustration: "You are standing beside your mother, holding her hand. She is holding her mother's hand, who is holding her mother's hand. On and on goes your lineage, each of you holding the hand of your mother, until your line is three hundred miles long and goes back in time five million years, deep into the African rain forest, where the clasping hand is that of a chimpanzee."

Early in the book, Thomas reflects on how it felt to first stumble into the serene land of the Ju/wasi in the 1950s: "[It was] as if I had voyaged into the deep past through a time machine. I feel that I saw the Old Way, the way of life that shaped us, a way of life that now is gone." For her, the Ju/wasi reflected a time almost 150,000 years ago, when the "Old Rules" governed our species. We were a people in fear of lions, of sickness and of darkness, and we had yet to create the kind of agricultural, non-nomadic societies that frame our lives today.

The Old Way concludes with the disheartening truth that the Ju/wasi and other San groups now struggle to coexist in a world rocked and ravaged by homogeneous modernity -- a similar plight to Australian Aboriginal groups and other native peoples. Many San are living under a blanket of poverty, tormented by alcoholism and AIDS. They wear native clothing only when tourist cameras come out, and few can remember a relatively recent time when ostrich eggshells were used to carry water or when digging sticks were used to unearth prized tubers and roots.

The Kalahari desert continues to touch all who gaze upon it. But in a way, the land is not the same now that the fragile tapestry of humanity has been torn apart. When I finished reading Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's remarkable book, I found myself wishing I could step into the time machine as she did almost half a century ago and emerge into the real Kalahari, the world of our ancestors.
-- Reviewed by Tahir Shah
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

"In 1950, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' father, the retired president of Raytheon, together with his wife, a former English teacher, and their two teenage children went out to live among some of the last people in the world still living as nomadic hunter-gatherers. It would be a coming of age like no other, with stunning and unforeseen rewards for the field of Anthropology. Her mother, Lorne Marshall, would write The !Kung of Nyae Nyae, one of the great ethnographies of all time; her brother John made a series of films culminating (just before he died) in the epicKalahari Family, chronicling the fate of the !Kung through early contacts and discovery of their remarkable way of life, to their tragic displacement from the lands that had sustained them for so many thousands of year. Elizabeth herself, an extraordinarily gifted writer went on to write a number of best-selling books. Now, half a century later, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas returns to those early experiences and re-examines what she learned from the people, places, animals and lifeways encountered in the Kalahari long ago. The result is a brilliantly conceived, wise and hauntingly vivid, portrait of the natural and social worlds inhabited by people living much as our earliest human ancestors must have. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' finest book to date, The Old Way, is a deeply felt, deeply observed masterpiece thattransforms the way we look at our own world."
--Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection

"This is the owner's manual we need for humankind. The Old Way gives us critical insight into our past at a turning point in human history by one of the few people who has seen our kind living as we have lived for most of our species' existence. This will be one of the most important books of the millennium."
--Sy Montgomery, author of The Snake Scientist and The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans



The Harmless People

"A study of primitive people which, for beauty of...style and concept, would be hard to match." —The New York Times Book Review

"The charm of this book is that the author can so truly convey the strangeness of the desert life in which we perceive human traits as familiar as our own....The Harmless People is a model of exposition: the style very simple and precise, perfectly suited to the neat, even fastidious activities of a people who must make their world out of next to nothing." —The Atlantic

Praise for The Hidden Life of Dogs:

"Popular science of the highest order: revelatory, impeccably observed, and a joy to read. A four-woof salute to Thomas and a vigorous tail-wag to boot." —Kirkus Reviews



Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat

From Library Journal
Relying on the expertise of veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and zoologists, these two titles explore the connection of domestic dogs and cats to their counterparts in the wild to help owners better understand their pets. Clearly explained are the similarities between big cats and domestic cats (for example, hunting, the senses, and territoriality) and the common traits of wolves and domestic dogs (e.g., pack mentality, canine teeth, and ears). Chapters on behavior discuss body language, vocal language, learning, and intelligence. The advice on nutrition, health problems, pregnancy, aging pets, and emergency care is straightforward and easy to understand. Dispersed throughout, informational boxes give concise advice and checklists on topics such as alternative vet care, defending territory, and bathing. Each volume has 300 wonderful full-color illustrations and photographs. More informative than The Tiger on Your Couch: What the Big Cats Can Teach You About Your House Cat (LJ 3/1/92), these volumes are entertaining as well as educational and would be useful in public and school libraries.AEva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

BookPage, Reviewed by Rhoda Riddell, Ph.D., November 1999
Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat: Understanding and Caring for the Tiger Within... and Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog: Understanding and Caring for the Wolf Within... are the perfect gifts for pet lovers, but they offer something for everyone. The 300 superb photographs of dogs and cats in domestic life and in the wild provide visual delight for any age reader. For the student, the books offers clear, authoritative information for a school report. Would-be and new pet owners can learn everything they need to know in detailed instruction on how to select, care for, and understand dogs or cats....



Wild Discovery Guide to Your Dog

From Library Journal
Relying on the expertise of veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and zoologists, these two titles explore the connection of domestic dogs and cats to their counterparts in the wild to help owners better understand their pets. Clearly explained are the similarities between big cats and domestic cats (for example, hunting, the senses, and territoriality) and the common traits of wolves and domestic dogs (e.g., pack mentality, canine teeth, and ears). Chapters on behavior discuss body language, vocal language, learning, and intelligence. The advice on nutrition, health problems, pregnancy, aging pets, and emergency care is straightforward and easy to understand. Dispersed throughout, informational boxes give concise advice and checklists on topics such as alternative vet care, defending territory, and bathing. Each volume has 300 wonderful full-color illustrations and photographs. More informative than The Tiger on Your Couch: What the Big Cats Can Teach You About Your House Cat (LJ 3/1/92), these volumes are entertaining as well as educational and would be useful in public and school libraries.
-- AEva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.



The Social Lives of Dogs

The New York Times Book Review, Caroline Knapp
...while critics from the hard sciences will still bristle at her sense of dog psychology, the rest of us will be delighted.

From Booklist
In this sequel to her surprising best-seller The Hidden Life of Dogs(1993), author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas shares the results of hundreds of hours spent observing her large menagerie of pets (dogs, cats, and parrots) and their various interactions with one another and with the humans in her household. Like the previous book, this one works both as a semi-anthropological study and as a moving biography of her pet family that also captures the complexities of animal relationships in a loving though straightforward and slightly eccentric manner. It may seem obsessive to those who are less than enchanted by our canine friends, but dog lovers will enjoy and empathize with Thomas' complete devotion to her pets and all animals and her humorous observations and sage advice on living with pets.
-- Kathleen Hughes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved



Certain Poor Shepherds

Marshall applies her knowledge of the animal world (The Secret Life of Dogs) and her fictional skills (Reindeer Moon) to a rich reimagining of the Nativity story. Her pilgrims are a wise goat named Ima and a huge warrior sheepdog , Lila. They are on the mountain guarding a herd of sheep when the star appears, and they immediately sense divinity in the air. Later, they see a flock of angels invisible to their master. Struck by inspiration, they follow the star to Bethlehem, where Lila witnesses the scene at the manger. Many other animals appear in the narrative -- camels, a cheetah, other dogs, a gazelle -- giving Marshall an opportunity to represent natural creatures interacting and cherishing their freedom, which to animals is a form of grace. After Ima and Lila experience several dangerous adventures, an uplifting ending, in which they are rewarded by an angel whom Ima had saved from an eagle, probably will elicit some happy tears. The deliberately simple but well-honed prose makes this story suitable for family reading, and Marshall's attribution of human thoughts and emotions to her animal characters should delight sentimentalists. But the epilogue, in which Marshall muses that "perhaps our hope of redemption lies in the fact that we are animals, not that we are people," will not make this book a favorite of fundamentalist Christians. Simultaneous audio.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.



The Hidden Lives of Dogs

From Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1993
An astonishing work of ethology that asks--and answers clearly--a question about dogs that's so simple that, apparently, no one has ever tackled it before: "What do dogs want?'' Thomas -- a trained scientist and novelist who brings her storytelling skills (The Animal Wife, 1990, etc.) fully to bear in this beautifully written study -- explains that, years ago, she realized that "despite a vast array of publications on dogs, virtually nobody...had ever bothered to ask what dogs do when left to themselves.'' And so she set out to ask just that, first by unobtrusively bicycling along with a two-year-old husky, Misha, as the dog went about its daily roamings in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area. Thomas's findings about Misha and ten other dogs (including a dingo) that followed him into her life -- supplemented by her fieldwork with wolves -- cause this report to be about "dog consciousness'' as, through an elegant recap of her observations, the author convinces us that dogs can, among other skills, create customs; adopt human mannerisms; choose between alternatives; play games; and exhibit a moral sense (this made clear through the amazing incident in which a tiny pug stops a much larger dog from terrorizing some pet parakeets and mice). Just as impressively, Thomas depicts -- without anthropomorphizing -- a dog world bound by rules like hierarchism but one nonetheless in which each canine is a complex individual. Particularly fascinating is her account of the "romantic love'' between Misha and his mate, Maria, in which the female remains monogamous even while in heat, as well Thomas's story of how her dogs, left wholly to their own devices, secretly dig a wolflike den behind a woodpile. What, then, do dogs want? "They want to belong, and they want each other.'' Popular science of the highest order: revelatory, impeccably observed, and a joy to read. A four-woof salute to Thomas and a vigorous tail-wag to boot.
-- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Why I Write

By Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

The relationships we have with dogs seem simple enough and often are taken for granted. But these relationships can be deep and mysterious, and not at all simple. I've written about this a number of times, as I find aspects of the relationships quite fascinating. To start with, dogs are legally slaves, or to put it pleasantly, property. We buy and sell them and their children. We can kill them without challenge and treat them more or less as we like.

Why then do we form such bonds with them? The books I have written about dogs evoked thousands of letters from readers whose dogs are as essential to them as mine are to me. Some readers described the loss through death of beloved dogs. Perhaps they wanted to share their loss with someone who understands it, because the loss itself has no societal recognition—no formal funeral, no acknowledged mourning—even though, for some of us, the tragedy is as serious as the loss of a person. And this, I think, is due to the intimacy of the relationship.

We display this through our sense of privacy and also of solitude. Imagine yourself about to take a bath. Your dog is with you, but you feel no embarrassment—you take off your bathrobe and get in the tub. If your audience were human, you might not take off the bathrobe, or if you did, you might wonder how you looked. None of this happens with your dog because the dog is somehow part of you. To be with him is like being alone, but better. For the same reason you might say you were alone even if your dog were right beside you. Again, it's because the dog is part of you, in a way that no person can be.

As far as I'm concerned, I own my dogs as I own my body. My legs are with me when I take a shower and I feel no shame. If I were to lose one, I'd grieve, and people would send sympathy cards, but it would be my condition that evoked the sympathy, not the fate of the leg. That's like losing a dog.

These days my dogs spend the night in my office as babysitters for two quarantined rescue kittens. I close them in my office and walk back to the house in the dark. Then I really am alone. Completely and utterly alone. I feel exposed, and I find this unsettling. A bear is often seen in our vicinity and I wonder if he's near. But on an ordinary night, the dogs would be with me, and I wouldn't give the bear a thought. The dogs would know if he was near. If so, we would act as one and scare him away. The dogs and I are a single thing, and thus we share our interests. With them, I'm bigger and better than I am without them, and vice versa. It's well worth writing about.


Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: Control & Magic

In her splendid book, The Old Way, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas shows how for tens of millennia our human ancestors were fully integrated into their environment without mediation by magic or gods.