After the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of abandoned children lived on the streets in Moscow. The boy in this story was one of them- only five when his mother disappeared. He fell in with other street children at first, begging alongside them but reluctant to steal. The other kids fought, older and stronger ones took advantage of the weak, many drank vodka or sniffed glue. This boy didn’t like the fighting and abuse, and found himself often watching dogs that he saw scavenging around the city. He was delighted when one day another boy took him to grab some puppies from an empty building- as they were much more likely to get handouts if accompanied by a dog. The other children just saw the puppies as items to be used in their constant desperation for resources, but our boy felt drawn to the dogs instead. He wanted to return the puppies to their mother. He started following a stray dog around, and then lived with the pack of strays in a den under a building. He felt more secure and loved by the dogs than he ever had among people- the dogs shared their food and protected him. The story follows this boy through two difficult years as he huddled in ruined buildings, dug through trash cans, rode trains at night to stay warm in winter, dodged the violence of other homeless- both children and adults- and especially avoided the charity people who wanted to put him in an orphanage. He heard horror stories of the orphanage from other kids. Usually managed to find just enough to eat, warm clothes were more of a problem, his best times were in summer when he roamed a patch of forest with the dogs. But then a kindhearted old woman took an interest in him and tried to arrange for him to be taken off the streets and cared for. He fought off every attempt- now snarling and barking like the dogs- but eventually was coerced into the hospital. He didn’t want to be there, only to return to the family of dogs, but eventually the people won his trust and he began a slow recovery.
Based on the same incident that inspired Dog Boy. I’m not sure which one I like better- they’re both very good, in different ways. Dog Boy is darker, grittier for sure. Dogs of Winter is much more relatable, I think a better read for kids even though it is so very sad, the hardships and cruelties are not glossed over at all. It almost puts you in tears, reading about what the children suffered, so many simply starved or froze to death in the winter, the children felt they had to resort to anything for survival, that no one cared about them. This one boy found the dogs cared more for him than other people, so that’s what got him through the worst times.
Borrowed from the public library.