Published authors share story of multi-decade friendship sparked by common love for animals

  • Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (left) holds her dog, Kafka, while Sy Montgomery holds Thomas’ other dog, Capek, and pets her dog, Thurber. Courtesy photo by Saibhung Singh Khalsa

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/19/2017 9:31:00 AM

Thirty-two years ago, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas stuck her hand into a ferret cage and an instant friendship was made.

Thomas was being interviewed by writer and journalist Sy Montgomery, who was living in New Ipswich and working as a columnist for the New Hampshire Times. Montgomery was an animal lover and she read a story about elephants communicating with each other using sounds inaudible to the human ear, written by Thomas in the Monadnock Ledger. She knew she had to meet her.

During the interview, Montgomery mentioned she had pet ferrets. Thomas said she’d like to see them.

“When?” Montgomery said.

“Now,” said Thomas.

So they went to Montgomery’s home. Thomas reached into the ferret cage and one of the young ferrets bit her hand. Montgomery was horrified. Thomas was nonplussed.

“I don’t mind being bitten,” Thomas said.

“That sealed it,” Montgomery said. “I knew this was going to be my BFF.”

The two shared a love of animals and a belief that animals could think, remember and emote – a belief not popular with scientists at the time.

“Right away, we could kind of see each other’s soul,” Montgomery said.

“Here was part of my heart,” said Montgomery of Thomas. “I couldn’t even figure out why she would want to be friends with me.”

Despite the age difference (Montgomery is 56 and Thomas is 89), a multi-decade friendship and working relationship emerged.

Over the years, the accomplished authors shared first and final drafts. They dedicated their work to each other and wrote about each other.

They also used to write an alternating column for the Boston Globe, but until this year, they hadn’t written a book together.

On Tuesday, the two friends introduced Tamed & Untamed: Close Encounters of the Animal Kind, to a local audience at the Peterborough Community Theatre. The book is a collection of essays (some new and some never-published Globe columns) that examine Montgomery and Thomas’ lifetime fascination with animals and their behavior, specifically how they think.

A book that was forged when one person stuck their hand into another person’s ferret cage.


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