A feral child is one who, whether by accident or intention, is raised isolated from more than very limited human contact. Children raised this way come closer to the border between humans and animals than the rest of us, and scientists find them interesting subjects of study when they are trying to learn more about what makes humans, well… human. Sometimes wild children have just been raised in conditions of extreme isolation, but sometimes they were raised by actual animals.
That was the case with Oxana Malaya, of Novaya Blagoveshchensk, Ukraine. Oxana was born on November 4, 1983 to alcoholic parents, according to History Daily. Medical experts believe that she was normal at birth, but was extremely neglected by her parents.
Finding herself locked out of the house when she was three years old, she crawled to the nearest source of warmth and shelter – the dog kennel.
Her parents seemingly didn’t notice her absence and Oxana continued to stay in the kennel with the dogs, surviving on their scraps. Over the five years that she essentially lived as part of the pack, she would have only occasionally seen humans, although it does appear that she went into her parents’ house at least occasionally.
According to Feral Children Project, Oxana rapidly learned to live like the rest of her furry family. She ate raw meat, walked on all fours, barked, and slept in the kennel them.
She stopped identifying with humans as being “her” species. When someone finally contacted police about Oxana and they came to investigate, she charged at them on all fours, barking. The dogs, protecting her, pulled at their chains and tried to get to the officers, who had to lure them with meat so they could retrieve the child.
By the time she was removed from her parent’s residence, not only had she forgotten how to walk upright, but the doctors worried she might also have lost the ability for human speech. Research suggests that if a child hasn’t been exposed to spoken language by the age of 5, they begin to lose the capacity to learn to talk.
She was taken to an orphanage school and was taught how to walk upright again. Somewhat surprisingly, she relearned how to talk, probably because she had some rudimentary speech before she went to live with the dogs. She was taught how to use her hands to eat, and the other basics of living as a girl and not a dog.
Despite the incredible gains she made toward re-entering society, the experience left its mark on her. Although she speaks, her speech is flat, lacking intonation and rhythm. She once had a boyfriend when she was 22, but he left quickly after she showed him how convincingly she could run and bark like a dog.
Oxana lives on a farm caring for the animals, but only has the mental function of a six-year-old. Like the creatures who raised her, she loves to be the center of attention. She can follow directions well, but is prone to boredom. If you give her anything, she will often immediately try to hide it, like a dog does with a bone.
Despite all of that, she still has a life. In 2013 she was interviewed on a Ukrainian talk show. She told her interviewer that she gets offended when people refer to her as a dog-girl, and she just wants to be treated the same as everyone else.
She talked about her early years, her life in foster care, and her work on the farm. She expressed her desire to spend more time with her brothers and to find her biological mother.
In short, despite her unusual early life, she still manages, now, to be a real girl.