When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a newly independent Russia found itself struggling to pick up the pieces with a nearly bankrupt economy and a severe drop in living standards. It was into these trying times that Ivan Mishukov was born.
By 1996 Russia’s economic situation had seen very little improvement. Due to the hardships people faced, families fell apart and the number of street children rose drastically. It was a sad fate that Ivan and his family could not escape.
With an ill-prepared mother and an alcoholic father at home, Ivan, who was just four years old at the time, ran away and ended up on the cold streets of Moscow like so many other children. But all was not lost, because it was here that he found himself a new, more loving family – a pack of stray dogs.
Surviving the streets
Like most of the children who found themselves on the street, Ivan begged for scraps from passers-by to survive. But unlike his homeless peers, Ivan always shared whatever he got with one particular pack of dogs. It was an act of kindness that didn’t go wasted on the animals, as they soon took a liking to the little boy and adopted him as one of their own. And with Ivan’s first winter on the streets of Moscow fast approaching, his new-found family couldn’t have come at a better time.
Moscow winters are notoriously brutal and can drag on for as long as 5 months, with temperatures dropping to -10 °C and rarely peeking above 0 °C. These extremes made life on the streets during winter particularly unpleasant and very often life threatening. Luckily for Ivan, his pack – having survived many winters on the streets themselves – were ready to help when the temperatures started plummeting.
At night the dogs would surround Ivan and sleep with him. Their body heat helped insulate the little boy from the cold and protected him from the layers of snow that would often blanket the city. But this wasn’t their only duty. The dogs also protected Ivan by attacking anyone who dared try to hurt him or steal what little he and his pack had.
This was how Ivan would spend the next two years on the streets. He would beg for food during the day to share with his pack, while they in turn made him pack leader and kept him safe.
This remarkable story of Moscow’s feral child and his stray dogs soon reached the ears of the city police, who tried to “rescue” Ivan on three occasions. Each time Ivan’s pack came to the aid of their leader and helped him escape by fiercely defending him.
On their fourth rescue attempt, the police finally succeeded by luring Ivan’s pack away from him with bait set in a restaurant kitchen. Ivan was six at the time of his capture and tried to stave off officers by snarling at them like one of his dogs.
Apart from having fleas and lice, Ivan was in surprisingly good health when he was brought in; a testament to the great care his canine family provided. The two years in the pack also didn’t affect his speech too much, which meant that Ivan was easily reintroduced into society.
Unfortunately Ivan’s mother had passed away three months prior to his rescue, which led to him spending some time at the Reutov children’s centre in Moscow. He was eventually placed with a loving family and went on to graduate from military school.
Today, Ivan is a well-adjusted member of society and has appeared on Russian and Ukrainian television to recount the time with his pack. His story is a moving example of the powerful bond that man and dogs share, and just goes to show that sometimes the most loving family members come with fur and four legs.