updated 5/27/2009 2:34:46 PM ET 2009-05-27T18:34:46

A 5-year-old Russian girl has been has placed in state custody after being found alone in an apartment filled with cats and dogs and imitating the animals' behavior.

Police in the Transbaikal region of Siberia said Wednesday that the girl was kept shut up with the animals in a filthy apartment in the regional capital of Chita, where she lived with relatives, including her father and grandparents.

Larisa Popova, head of the children's affairs unit at the local police precinct, told state-run Rossiya television that the girl had developed feral characteristics.

"The child lived in unsanitary conditions. There was a horrible stench," Popova said. "There were many animals — both dogs and cats. In all probability, the girl lived with and was raised by these animals."

Police said the girl understands Russian but rarely speaks and they are gathering evidence to support neglect charges.

Nina Yemelyanova, head of the reception department at a children's home where the girl has been placed, said the child appears to mimic the behavior of animals.

"Today, when I left the room, she jumped up to the door and started to bark," Yemelyanova told Rossiya television. "And she does not know how to behave at the table — when she eats, the tries to put the spoon aside and lap from the dish."

Regional police said water, heat and gas to the apartment had long since been shut off for nonpayment.

The ITAR-Tass news agency cited the girl's mother as saying the child's father had taken her away without her permission when she was 2 1/2 years old. But the father claimed his mother-in-law had asked him to take the child because the mother was not taking proper care of her, the news agency quoted regional police spokesman Yegor Markov as saying.

Markov said the father could be charged with neglect of a minor, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Chita is 2,900 miles east of Moscow.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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