World War II has just ended when thirteen-year-old Mikhail finds a dying man and his German shepherd, Zasha, in the woods. It's dangerous -- some say traitorous -- to own a German dog after Germany attacked Russia, so Mikhail must keep Zasha a secret to keep her alive.
But Mikhail's rival, Katia, is determined to find the dog she is sure he's hiding. At the same time, a soldier named Dimitri is breeding a new Russian dog at a nearby farm. So many dogs were lost in combat, to starvation, and in the slaughter of German dogs that the country is in dire need of every kind of dog.
Post WWII Russia
Russia at the end of WWII was a perilous place to be, especially for German types of dogs. When Mikhail finds a dying man and his German shepherd near his house, he gets help. The man dies, and Mikhail begs to be allowed to keep the dog, Zasha, safe, because he knows that soldiers will shoot the dog otherwise. He manages to keep this secret even with the prying of the daughter of the local newspaper man prying into his business. When he finds out that Dmitri, a former soldier, has a refuge for dogs and is trying to breed a "Russian" dog to help replace the thousands of dogs that were killed in the war, he is reluctant to turn the pregnant Zasha over until it becomes too dangerous to take care of her himself.