Despite living in a teeny-tiny, one bedroom apartment, Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev share their space with one of the biggest names in soccer – Messi. No not the star himself, but his namesake – a 90lb puma. The Russian couple first spotted Messi at the Saransk Zoo in Penza when he was just eight-months-old and decided that they had to have him.
Messi was one of three cubs born at the 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 cub was sold to the Saransk Zoo when he was three months old and suffered from health problems. Enamored with the sickly animal the Dmitriev’s appealed to the zoo and asked if they could buy him.
According to his wife Mariya, 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 is part of our destiny.”
“We had three days of thinking hard about whether it was moral to keep a puma, 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 was a challenge in many ways. 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. Even though the couple has nursed the cub back to health, he is still only two-thirds of the size of the average puma.
Just like any other pet, 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.”
However, unlike a dog training, this lovable giant was not easy. The couple tried to find a wild animal handler but were not successful.
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’ across social media – and people love it. While the real Messi has 100m Instagram followers, cat Messi still does pretty well with over 500k followers on his @I_am_puma account and over 170k subscribers on his YouTube account.
Even though the couple only lives 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 some animal and environmental rights activists have objections to the Dmitrievs keeping an exotic animal in their home and believe Messi belongs 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