There is a puma called Messi, surely after the great soccer star, who surprisingly shares a one bedroom apartment with Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev. The Russian couple first spotted the 90 pound puma at the Saransk Zoo in Penza when it was just 8 months old, and decided he had to be with them. Messi was one of the three cougar cubs born at the zoo, the other two were also named after soccer greats, Neymar and Suarez. They were named such to celebrate the Russian city hosting four matches of the World Cup. Messi suffered from health problems, and Aleksandr, who fell in love with the sickly cat, asked the owners if they could buy him. It has always been a dream of Aleksandr to own 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,” explained Mariya. Surely the cat made a good impression on the couple, especially since they really didn’t have much room for themselves in their apartment, what more a big cat.
Mariya further explains, “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…so we went to the zoo and started negotiations to buy Messi. We were surprised ourselves when they agreed.” But it was not easy to take care of Messi. Aside from being a wild animal, the cat needed extra care and medical attention. The couple were able to nurse him back to health, but Messi is still only two thirds of the size of an average puma. The cat requires a lot of exercise, so the couple purchased a special coat and harness so they could take him for 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. “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,” he adds.
Training was not as easy as training a dog though. Mariya and Aleksandr tried to find a wild animal handler but were not successful. Eventually they found a dog training school that could handle the lovable big cat, and now he can respond to 10 different commands. Aleksandr said,” 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 for some small naughty things. He’s very kind and likes contact. He gets on very well with people.”
The couple had to fix-up their apartment to accommodate Messi – they converted their hallway into Messi’s den, complete with a tree, a hiding hole, and bamboo walls. It is rare to have an exotic cat living in your apartment, so Messi’s life with the couple is documented in social media, and does pretty well, though not as popular as the real Lionel Messi. Of course you can imagine that some do not agree with the exotic cat living with the couple, such as environmental rights activists. They state that these animals should be in a sanctuary or wildlife reserve. Others feel it is dangerous to have a wild cat as a domestic pet. But the Dmitrievs believe that Messi would not be able to survive in the wild with other cats. They understand it may be dangerous, but insist Messi is very special and poses no danger. Well, for sure the cat is considered as a family member, but you decide if it is justified to have an exotic animal as a domestic pet.