Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev share a one-bedroom apartment 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.