Tarzan, Mowgli and Penguin from Batman were all fictional characters of humans who were raised by animals and adopted characteristics of those animals. There was a real life Tarzan however, Oxana Malaya from Ukraine (formerly the Soviet Union) who was considered by many as a feral child – she was raised by dogs.
She was the main focus of many documentaries, interviews and tabloid headlines and internationally known for her dog-imitating behaviour.
When Oxana was three years old, there weren’t enough beds in the home of her alcoholic and negligent parents, and when they forgot her outside one night, to keep warm, she cuddled up in the kennel with the wild dogs out back. Apparently noone came to look for her or even noticed that she was gone so she ended up staying where there was warmth and food. Food being scraps and raw meat. She completely forgot what it was to be human and she lost the little language she had as a toddler and learned to survive as a member of the pack.
Oxana was raised by those dogs until she was eight when a neighbour reported a child living with animals to the police – when she was found, she could not talk, lacked many basic skills and physically behaved like a dog. She ran on all fours, she barked, she slept on the floor and she ate and took care of her hygiene like a dog….with her tongue. She did not know what a mirror was and showed no recognition of the reflected image of herself. This lack of self-awareness makes her, in some respects, more like an animal than a human.
It is reported that she did see humans from afar and occasionally went into her family home like a stray, but to Oxana, her family weren’t the same species as her.
Eventually, Oxana was transferred to a foster home for mentally disabled children and went through years of specialized therapy and education in an attempt to figureout her behavioural, social and educational issues.
There is very little documentation about her psychological state when she was found at the age of eight so what is known about Oxana aka “the Dog Girl” has just been passed down by word of mouth through doctors and the people who cared for her.
Oxana is now 32 years old and has learned how to speak fluently and intelligently without barking or whining. She works at a farm milking cows but is still a little intellectually impaired.
British child psychologist Lyn Fry, who is also an expert on feral children, decided to go to the Ukraine to see how well, if at all, Oxana integrated into society.
After a series of tests, Ms Fry found out that Oxana had a mental capacity of a six-year-old child. She could count, but she couldn’t add. She couldn’t read or spell her name correctly. She had learning difficulties, but she is not autistic, as animal raised children are sometimes assumed to be.
How did she learn to speak at all? According to experts, unless a child learns how to speak by the age of five, the brain misses its chance to acquire language but Oxana was able to learn to talk again because she still had some childish speech before she was abandoned to the dogs.
Although she somewhat knows the difference between what is socially acceptable, she still goes into the woods alone when she is upset and she knows she shouldn’t bark, but she can. Dr Fry says that Oxana seems happy looking after the cows and she was finally reunited with her father through Dr Fry.