In Penza, Russia lives a two-year-old puma named Messi. He even has an Instagram page and 300,000 people following his mischiefs and good looks. But don’t expect to find Messi hanging out at the zoo or animal sanctuary. He actually lives with two people and a regular house cat in a typical apartment home.
Messi met Maria and Aleksandr Dmitriev when they noticed him at a petting zoo. At the time he was only one. Since the Dmitrievs loved cats, they immediately fell head over heels in love with Messi. So they asked the zoo owners to tell them more about Messi’s life story.
In October of 2015, Messi’s mom birthed him at the Saransk city zoo. But he experienced lots of health issues when he was just three months old, so the petting zoo took him off their hands. Once the Dmitrievs heard the narrative, they requested to purchase Messi from the petting zoo owners and they said yes.
Messi was going to be a handful, especially when he grew up, and the Dmitrievs understood that. Messi would have lots of medical needs and would be targeted by other pumas if he were released in the wild. So they tried domesticating him at home, and the Dmitrievs took their role as parents quite seriously.
Maria and Aleksandr prepared a room in their apartment to handle all of Messi’s needs, based solely on their extensive research. They added a tree in the corner, a hiding hole, and added bamboo to the walls. Scratching posts were made from the door jambs, and a mirrored wall was set up so Messi could entertain himself literally. But the real challenge wasn’t his living accommodations.
Messi had to go to the bathroom a lot because of his chronic cystitis. So, the couple places a step stool near the bathtub, which would become his litter box. They were eventually able to potty-train the animal. Now he gets walked once in the morning and at night so he can do his business outside. But there was still his health problems they needed to handle.
Messi had muscular atrophy and rickets possibly caused by the neglect he received as a cub. The couple took him out for a stroll to make his muscles and bones stronger. They also gave him mineral and vitamin supplements. Each day, they made the strolls longer, but previous fractures caused him to limp. So, the couple switched it up.
The Dmitrievs tried getting wild animal handlers to train him, so Messi would be healthy and active again, but they got turned down. Then, a bobcat trainer agreed and started one-on-one sessions with Messi. Eventually, he took Messi to group classes at a dog training school. Messi learned basic commands fairly quickly and proved he was an intelligent puma. Fortunately, things were also improving at home too.
Messi was slowly becoming affectionate towards his human family and opening up more. Like other cats, he enjoyed being stroked and loved to cuddle. He was quite playful too. When your pet has huge claws, playing with him might sound dangerous, but Messi learned not to bite or claw the Dmitrievs while playing. But there were some who weren’t exactly thrilled with having him around.
The Dmitrievs already had six-year-old Sphynx cat called Kira, which they got before Messi. When the two creatures met, Messi tried playing with Kira, but she wasn’t into him. She hissed and lashed at him using her claws, and her feelings haven’t changed. Messi keeps trying to get on Kira’s good side though. It might appear as if Messi has become domesticated, but the Dmitrievs are aware that he’s special.
Cat food and human food were not options that Maria and Aleksandr could use for Messi. So they tried to research to see what they could feed a big cat like Messi. Now they keep on a diet of raw meat. The Dmitrievs’ strict dietary routine ensures that Messi lives a healthy life. But the couple has had to face a few setbacks too.
Environmental organizations and animal rights activists have demanded that the Dmitrievs surrender Messi to a wildlife reserve or a sanctuary. They believe that a wild animal can be a major threat because they can never truly be domesticated. They say it also encourages illegal wildlife trade, which can harm other animals. But the Dmitrievs believe they’re doing nothing wrong.
Messi’s health issues prevent him from living in the wild on his own, even if he were placed in a sanctuary. The Dmitrievs firmly believe this, but they don’t encourage others to do what they did because Messi’s situation is unique. Other people don’t agree with their logic, but in the end, the Dmitrievs believe Messi is better off with them.
When it comes to welfare laws regarding animals, Russia’s quite limited. They only deal with what happens if you injure and/or kill an animal. The laws don’t regulate ownership of a wild animal. So the Dmitrievs aren’t breaking any laws. But as Messi’s fame rises online, the controversy continues.
On YouTube, Messi has about 25,000 subscribers. Meanwhile, on Instagram, he’s got 295,000 followers, and those numbers will grow as he continues to win people over from around the globe with his hijinks. Messi is only two years old, and has not yet grown to full adulthood, but he has certainly adapted to the domestic life. It’s also obvious that he loves the Dmitrievs about as much as they adore the puma.