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The Extraordinary Life of Oxana Malaya: The Girl Raised by Dogs

Children often try to mimic their pets. Barking, growling, and even walking on all fours aren’t entirely abnormal behaviors for a child to exhibit when copying their family dog.

However, for Oxana Malaya, this wasn’t a fun game she was playing with her pets; it was her way of life.

 Oxana Malaya after being discovered. Image via 60 seconds Australia.

The severely neglected child found comfort and solace in the wild dogs that lived near her family home. The Ukrainian girl wouldn’t just be brought up by dogs; she would embody their behaviors. 

Oxana’s mother and father were allegedly alcoholics who did little in the way of raising their child.

In fact, they often neglected to meet her basic needs, so when the youngster was locked outside in the freezing cold one night, she resorted to seeking out wild dogs for warmth.

What would transpire is a heartbreaking tale of the child who was dubbed “dog girl.”

Oxana’s Early Years

Oxana was born in Nova Blagoveshchensk, a village in southern Ukraine, in November 1983. She was a healthy baby with normal development, although her neglectful parents somewhat stunted it.

According to Oxana, her parents drank heavily and already had “too many kids.” As a result, there was never enough room in their small house to accommodate a large family. As Oxana recalls, she would struggle to find room in the bed to sleep.

On one particularly cold evening, Oxana’s parents locked her outside. It’s unknown if this was intentional or not, but either way, they didn’t notice their three-year-old child had gone missing from the family home.

The little girl’s survival skills kicked in, and she headed to the farm kennels, where she curled up with the dogs who took shelter there.

The stray dogs quickly took Oxana in as one of their own, providing her with the warmth and protection her parents didn’t. She called their den her home and began adopting the canine way of life.

She began to walk on all fours, running and jumping as she raced around on her hands and feet. She ate like the dogs did, eating directly from the floor and not using her hands. She also cleaned herself just like the dogs did.

Oxana would also learn the dogs’ way of communication. While she initially spoke to them in Ukrainian, this soon turned into her learning to bark to communicate. She would copy the pitch and volume of the barks and howls and repeat them.

She was now a member of the pack. For five years, she lived outside with her canine family. She hunted with them, played with them, slept among them, and was protected by them. The stray dogs offered the young girl everything her parents didn’t.

Oxana Malaya acting like a dog. Photos via 60 seconds Australia.

It took a member of the village community to discover Oxana in the woods outside her home for authorities to be called.

When they found Oxana, they’d struggle to get close to her. The family of dogs she’d been living with were so protective of her that they refused to let any strangers near her.

In the end, authorities had to use scraps of food to lure the dogs away from the 8-year-old long enough for them to pick her up and take her away.

They Called Her “Dog Girl”

Oxana was placed into a children’s home, although after five years of living in the wild, it was hard for her to adjust to “normal” childhood life.

She didn’t eat, drink, or play like the other children. She lapped her water instead of sipping it, and her baths involved her licking herself to get clean.

The staff at the children’s home were tasked with getting Oxana to behave in a more human-like way. In theory, this shouldn’t have been too difficult. She knew how to walk on her legs instead of all fours, and she also knew how to eat using her hands. 

However, her dog-like habits had been ingrained deeply at this point. She still preferred to walk on all fours and eat from the floor.

When Oxana was presented with water, she would show her tongue. She also adopted the habit of panting like a dog.

However, dogs pant to regulate their temperature, while humans are able to regulate their temperature naturally. So, it seems Oxana picked up this habit from copying the dogs rather than out of necessity.

If staff members handed her an item or some food, she would hide it or bury it like a dog. She would guard resources like her canine family had taught her to do. She would snarl, bark, and bite if someone tried to take something from her. Sharing wasn’t something that came naturally to Oxana.

While she was most certainly a little girl, she had all of the characteristics of a wild dog.

Still, Oxana was like a sponge when it came to education. She soon began learning hundreds of words and was able to communicate—albeit in a limited capacity—with her caregivers. This was progress, and it proved that the little girl was able to evolve after her five years living among dogs.

Eventually, walking upright became her natural gait. She would occasionally revert to getting about on all fours, but more often than not, she would use her legs.

The After-Effects Of Five Years In The Wild

Despite her apparent ability to adapt to “normality,” it was clear that Oxana would never develop fully for her age. She spent the next two decades in assisted living, and even by the time she reached 30, she still displayed childish tendencies.

One of the most recent pictures of Oxana Malaya as an adult. Image via famous fix.

“When I feel lonely, I crawl on all fours,” she said. “Because I have nobody, I spend my time with dogs.”

While five years may not sound like a lot of time, Oxana’s five years living with dogs profoundly affected her development. So much so her developmental age is that of a six-year-old, and her mental age remains that of a five-year-old.

Her story provoked a debate on the nature vs. nurture question. Oxana’s stunted development suggested that nurture plays a huge part in shaping a person and helping them realize their potential.

Now, at 40 years old, Oxana has a solid understanding of language and can communicate effectively. She can hold a conversation, although her way of talking lacks cadence and inflection. She is unable to read, and experts believe that her ability to learn to do so is no longer there.

In 2013, Oxana was interviewed for Ukrainian television. She expressed her dislike of being referred to as “dog girl,” a phrase commonly used to describe her in the press. Oxana also conveyed her desire to be reunited with her mother and for her siblings to come and visit her more regularly. 

As of 2013, she was reported to be living on a farm where she cares for the animals.

Her story, although shocking, isn’t entirely unique. There have been other reported cases of neglected, feral children, the most prominent one being the case of Genie.

In late 1970, the then-teenager was found to have been tied to a chair in her parent’s home. She wasn’t interacted with, had little to no ability to talk, and found walking difficult.

Her father, who also beat the girl, had constrained her in her room for almost a decade. He said that her noise-making was too much for him to bear, so he locked her away in a dark room without any form of stimulation.

As a result, she grew up with almost no human interaction. When she was eventually rescued, she was found to have two sets of teeth, was extremely malnourished, and was unable to focus on anything more than ten feet away from her.

This was because she’d been locked up in a small, dank room, and her eyes had never had the ability to look further than a few feet.

Her fine motor skills were those of a two-year-old, and instead of walking, Genie would hop. She was unable to swallow solid foods and struggled to chew.

She was given the name “feral child” by the media.

Sadly, for Genie, it seems her rescue came too late. She was never able to learn language properly, aside from a few phrases, nor could she fully trust another human. Her whereabouts, or whether she is still alive, is unknown.

Despite some similarities to Genie’s story, Oxana’s story doesn’t end quite as tragically. Oxana was able to carve out a life for herself that sees her caring for farm animals and dogs. Perhaps it’s her way of repaying them for doing the same for her all those years ago.



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