Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev share a one-bedroom apartment with a feline…but not your average cat, a 90lb puma named Messi. The Russian couple first spotted Messi at the Saransk Zoo in Penza when he was just eight-months-old and decided that he had to be a part of their lives.
Messi was one of three cougar cubs born at the Saransk Zoo. The other two, Suarez and Neymar, were also named after famous players to celebrate the Russian city hosting four matches of the World Cup. The wild cat was sold to the Saransk Zoo when he was just three months old and suffered from a number of health problems. Enamored with the sickly zoo animal the Dmitriev’s appealed to the owners and asked if they could buy him.
Aleksandr, 38, had always dreamed of owning a big cat, “He always thought about having a lynx – never a puma. It’s hard to explain but we believe that having this puma as a house cat is part of our destiny.”
“We had three days of thinking hard about whether it was moral to keep such an exotic pet, and whether it was common sense to have one. But nothing could fight our sudden wish,” Mariya, 28, told the Mirror. “So we went to the zoo and started negotiations to buy Messi. We were surprised ourselves when they agreed.”
Taking on the care of Messi brought on numerous challenges. Beyond being a wild animal, the cat needed extra medical attention and care, “he was quite weak and demanded a lot of attention,” said Mariya. Although the couple has nursed the cub back to health, he is still only two-thirds of the size of the average puma.
Just like a normal cat, Messi requires lots of exercise, which is why his human parents purchased a special coat and harness so they can take him on walks. “He is like a dog. We started taking him for a walk, step by step. The animal hadn’t been really active before, Aleksandr said in an interview with RT, “Now we walk a lot twice a day, as it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t differ much from owning a dog in this sense.”
Unlike a dog training, this giant cat was not easy. The couple tried to find a wild animal handler but were unsuccesful.
Finally, they found a dog training school he could attend and now responds to about 10 different commands.
“He convinced us with his behavior that he’s a full member of our family and that he wouldn’t be doing anything bad apart from some small naughty things. He’s very kind and likes contact. He gets on very well with people,” says Aleksandr.
Having an exotic cat in your house is quite rare, so the Dmitrievs document life with their “housecat” on social media and people love it. While the real Messi has 100m Instagram followers, cat Messi still does pretty well with over 1.3 million followers on his @I_am_puma account and over 953k subscribers on his YouTube account.
Although the couple live in a one-bedroom apartment they have done their best to accommodate their large companion. Such as converting their hallway into Messi’s den – complete with a tree, bamboo walls, and a hiding hole.
“He is just an ordinary cat, but a big one. He has all the habits of a cat,” says Aleksandr.
As you can imagine, there were animal and environmental rights activists having objections to the Dmitrievs keeping an exotic animal in their home and believed Messi belonged on a wildlife reserve or in a sanctuary. While others note the danger of living with wild animal.
But the couple believes that he would not survive alongside other animals as he has never lived alone in the wild. “Of course it’s quite dangerous having such a large cat at home, but Messi is a special animal,” Mariya told the Mirror.
Check out Messi playing with his favorite toys:
Or learn how to wash a puma: