You're about to meet Sheila the lion. Sheila is a gorgeous lioness who spent most of her life as a show animal performing at private parties. After years of working as a performance animal, her health started to suffer and she started to deteriorate.
Her caretaker couldn't afford to get her proper veterinary care. After a life of hard labor and improper care, she was rescued by animal rights activists. Unfortunately, it seemed like Sheila was too far gone by that point. Her new caretakers were thinking that they might have to put her down. Then something incredible happened...
Sheila was one of the lions rescued by the U.S Department of Agriculture in July 2009. A lot of the lions rescued that year were in poor shape, but Sheila's condition was particularly dire.
She was severely underweight, frail, and weak. Her rescuers thought that there wasn't much hope for her, but they decided to take a chance and help her anyway. They wanted to at least give her an opportunity to pull through.
Causes Of Her Condition
Sheila was rescued from an entertainment center in Texas. Her job was to make her owner a lot of money by performing at high profile parties and events.
Sheila wasn't the only lion at this entertainment center, but she was the lion who had worked and suffered the most.
Treated Like Trash
Sheila's caretaker was particularly cruel to his lions.
Keahey, founder of In-Sync Organization explained, "when they are no longer useful to him, he throws them aside and stops taking care of them."
Life In Captivity
Sadly for Sheila, she had spent most of her life held in captivity in Texas. She had been a working lioness since she was just a little cub.
She had started living as a pet and appearing in photoshoots, and then she began working in the entertainment industry. Sheila was a wild animal living a domestic, labor-intensive life, and it was taking a massive toll on her health and well-being.
A Safe Environment
Sheila was suffering from a coordination problem, and pretty soon, she couldn't even stand up on her own. Her rescuers understood that her muscles were weak and it was causing her problems even while she was just walking around.
She could hardly lift her head up to eat or to get a drink of water. She had completely lost her appetite and it seemed like she had completely lost her will to live.
Not That Uncommon
Unfortunately, Sheila's story isn't all that rare. Animals are stolen for entertainment purposes all the time. Famously, the documentary Blackfish exposed fishermen who steal baby whales from the ocean and sell them to places like Sea World for profit.
Most of these animals aren't cared for properly and they end up living short, tortured lifespans. Sheila's rescuers were hoping that she wouldn't suffer that same fate.
Handing Her Over To Specialists
Sheila was in such bad condition that the U.S Department of Agriculture decided to hand her over to an animal social welfare organization.
This team was known as In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center.
A Life-Or-Death Decision
In-Sync is an organization that specializes in sheltering stranded animals and nursing them back to health. But there is always a limit to what they can do.
The U.S Department of Agriculture told In-Sync that if Sheila's condition didn't improve, they should strongly consider euthanizing her. It wasn't fair to allow Sheila to suffer.
She Needed Help Eating
Sheila was brought to In-Sync and started settling in. At first, she wasn't responding well to treatment. Even so, her rescuers were determined to save Sheila's life.
She wasn't able to eat food on her own, so the team would sit with her and hand-feed her. The founder of In Sync said, "For two weeks, I had to go in with Sheila and hand-feed her." She added, "I'd take meatballs balls and literally stuff them down her throat."
Even though the team at In-Sync was doing everything they could to help Sheila, it didn't look like she was improving much.
Her health seemed to be pretty much the same as it was when she arrived.
Can't Even Walk Well
One In-Sync member said, "She had very little muscle coordination, and thus when she walked, her legs would slip out from under her."
It was going to be a very slow road to recovery.
Nothing Really Helped
The rescuers at In-Sync had experience working with wild animals in poor conditions before, but they had never seen a case quite like this. It was as though Sheila was refusing to get better. They thought she had given up completely. After days of weakness and lethargy, Sheila stopped moving altogether.
She would throw up whatever she ate and it seemed like her health was getting worse. This put the rescuers in a really tough position.
The team at In-Sync was at a total loss. They were doing everything they could to help Sheila, but nothing seemed to be working. After a few weeks of tireless work, they decided to consider USDA's advice of euthanizing this big cat.
Sheila's life had become painful and difficult. The team had to face the fact that the most merciful thing to do was to give Sheila a peaceful end to life.
Sheila Was Unique
The team really didn't want to lose Sheila. She was a beautiful animal who had spent her whole life in captivity. They wanted to give her a chance to enjoy the life she had left. Sheila wasn't like other lions.
Her fur was very blonde, which made her stand out from other big cats.
Her blonde fur was probably the reason that she was worth so much to her previous owner. Lionesses of this color are only found in Timbavati and South Africa.
In-Sync was actually prepared to euthanize Sheila when some new information came to light...
Finally, A Diagnosis
The In-Sync team had a revelation about this beautiful ion. They figured out that Sheila was suffering from a disease called toxoplasmosis, as well as a lack of vitamin A.
This meant that there were parasites in Sheila's blood. The disease can be fatal for members of the feline family. Now that her caretakers knew what was wrong with Sheila, they just had to get her to take her medicine.
A Whole Bunch Of Symptoms
Toxoplasmosis is an infection usually found in cats. An animal develops this infection when their immune system is not strong enough to fight off infections.
Years of improper care caused Sheila's immune system to weaken, which is how she developed the disease. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include reduced coordination, disorientation, lethargy, breathing difficulties, enlarged lymph nodes, and apparent blindness. If not properly and promptly treated, this disease can be fatal.
There Was A Plan
Sheila's caretakers immediately started treating her with antibiotics.
It had taken a while to arrive at a diagnosis, and Sheila was starting her antibiotic regimen quite late into her condition, but this was Sheila's only hope.
Getting Her To Take Antibiotics Was Tough
It's no easy task to get a stubborn lion to take a whole bunch of antibiotics.
Sheila was difficult and sometimes it would take an hour for the In-Sync team to get her to take her medicine.
Immediately after Sheila started taking her antibiotics, she started feeling better. Pretty soon she was able to walk and eat on her own.
Naturally, all of Sheila's caretakers thought that the improvement in her health was due to the medicine she was taking, but in reality, she was getting better so quickly because of a completely different reason— one that nobody had noticed before. Sheila had a different kind of medicine.
A Drastic Improvement
In a Facebook post, In-Sync stated, "Sheila has made a remarkable improvement. She has regained muscle control, swallows easily, and runs and hops like a bunny." But even the handlers and caretakers who worked with Sheila every day weren't sure why this lion who was previously so sickly was able to make such a quick recovery.
Antibiotics are wonderful, but they couldn't have restored Sheila's will to live all on their own.
A Friend In Need
The enclosure Sheila was living in at the In-Sync facility had another enclosure attached to it. There was someone in the enclosure next to Sheila's that helped the lioness feel happier and healthier.
When the employees at In-Sync discovered what was happening between the two enclosures, they were completely shocked. Keep reading to find out who Sheila's helpful neighbor was, and why she bounced back so quickly.
It was a lion! A very handsome male lion, to be exact. It seems like Sheila had developed a crush on her neighbor.
From the very beginning, these two had formed a very close bond.
They Made Each Other Stronger
Sheila's love for Kahn was the reason she was able to progress so quickly. Now that she had a relationship with another lion, she had found the will to live.
Also, Kahn had a similar backstory to Sheila.
Birds Of A Feather (Or Lions Of A... Mane?)
Kahn is a six-year-old lion who was rescued by In-Sync just a few months before Sheila's rescue. Like Sheila, Kahn was a lion who used to work in the entertainment industry in Texas. He was also mistreated by his handlers and when he arrived at the rescue facility, he was in very poor health just like Sheila was.
Maybe these two were able to bond so quickly because they had lived through similar circumstances.
Kahn The Magnificent
Just like Sheila, Kahn was a show animal. He used to entertain audiences in private parties by showing off his roar or balancing on his two back legs. His handlers took him to different events around the city, and sometimes he performed at multiple events or parties in a single day.
All of that traveling and hard work made him sick, but he was still forced to perform despite his illness.
Kahn Was In A Bad Place
When Kahn was finally rescued by the In-Sync team, he was in horrible condition. He was malnourished and weighed about 100 pounds less than the average lion his age. He had been beaten and overworked by his owner. He was forced to live in a tiny cage that stunted his growth and compromised his bones.
He became so frustrated with his living conditions that he did something totally unexpected.
The Extent Of His Frustration
Because of the way he was treated and how he was forced to live, Kahn lion chewed his own tail off out of boredom and frustration.
The tip of his tail had become completely raw and swollen. Had he not been rescued in time, he would have developed an infection and died.
He Chewed It Off Himself
Keahey explained, "When Kahn came, the end of his tail was completely chewed off and [he] was very thin."
Kahn also suffered from bone problems that made it difficult for him to walk.
An Aggressive Lion
Kahn was very aggressive when he first came to the rescue center. It was very difficult for the In-Sync team to interact with him and to help him. Because he hadn't been given enough food when he was living with his previous owner, he was very aggressive when it came to feeding time.
In many ways, Kahn was a very dangerous lion. Workers had to use extreme care when feeding him or treating him.
A Part Of The Family
Kahn was a fighter, and unlike Sheila, he never lost his will to live. He was able to recover quickly and soon this aggressive beast turned into a calm and relaxed animal.
Kahn fit right in with the other lions at the rescue center, and he seemed to really enjoy his new life in retirement. His aggression was mostly an effect of his health issues, and now that his health issues are resolved, he is much less aggressive.
A New Home
Kahn felt right at home at the In-Sync rescue center. He became so good-natured that the workers at the center were able to build him some cinder-block stairs so that he could get into the den in his enclosure more easily. Now he had a lot more room to stretch out and relax.
This place was a lot different from the small cage that Kahn was used to living in.
Now Kahn just needed a friend to play with. Lions are very social creatures who tend to live in packs (called prides), which is why it's especially upsetting that both Kahn and Sheila were isolated from other lions for so long.
As soon as Kahn and Sheila were placed next to each other they immediately developed a friendship. This friendship was the key to Sheila's recovery. Kahn's fighting spirit was starting to rub off on her.
Different Responses To Similar Trauma
Both of these wild cats had gone through the same kind of tragedy, however, the situations of both were a little different.
The in-sync founder explained 'It was easy to treat him and get him comfortable with his new surroundings. Sheila, on the other hand, was in very bad shape … Sheila was almost dead." Even though these lions had both been through a lot of trauma, their different personalities caused them to respond to that trauma differently.
Moving In Together
Keahey opened up about the improving condition of both the lions: "As time went by they both healed and grew into beautifully grown lions.” She continued, "In the meanwhile, we had finished our new lion enclosure. The way it was designed would have Kahn and Sheila living next door to each other.”
These two were taking the next step in their relationship. Who knows where this pairing could go?
A Love Relationship
Kahn and Sheila's friendship developed into something more than a friendship. The two would spend a lot of time playing with each other. Keahey said, "Sheila spent the next few months showing off for Kahn, and Kahn strutted his stuff for her."
These two lions clearly had some kind of love for each other, that is if you believe that lions can fall in love. Have you seen The Lion King? They definitely can.
The workers at In-Sync saw that these two lions were clearly affectionate towards each other. They decided to let them date and to let them share an enclosure, but before they did that, they spayed Sheila so that there were no happy accidents. We don't need any more lions born in captivity.
Vicky, who works at In-Sync explained, "we did short dates every day, then the dates got longer and then the dates became unsupervised."
When Two Lions Get Married
Vicky continued, "Then we let them spend the night together. After three months of dating, we let them get 'married.' A special enclose has been built for them where they spend their ‘we’ time together. In their relationship, Sheila seems to be the boss."
These two are serious relationship goals. Everyone at In-Sync was so happy that these two lions found each other. Sheila and Kahn were finally happy and healthy.
This newlywed couple can't get enough of each other. Sheila is absolutely in love with her husband. She also enjoys playing with cardboard boxes and getting a lot of attention from her caretakers. Vicky has revealed that Kahn is very possessive over his wife.
He gets very jealous when other lions look at Sheila and he does everything in his power to protect her. Keep reading to find out what Kahn does when another lion approaches Sheila.
A Jealous Husband
Kahn knows that he's super lucky to have a wife as strong and as beautiful as Sheila. Kahn likes to make sure that she's safe at all times. Vicky says, "Then Kahn lets that guy know she belongs to him. He roars and sometimes charges at them."
These two rescued animals make such a perfect couple. But what happened to the people who abused them? What are they doing now?
Actions Have Consequences
The man who abused Sheila, Kahn and other animals is no longer entitled to keep big cats or wild animals. He lost his ability to keep lions, which in turn affected his business and how much money he is able to make.
However, some animal rights activists thought that this man should receive a more severe penalty. They thought he should spend time in prison or at least be fined for what he did to these magnificent creatures.
A Happy Ending
This story that started with animals in horrible conditions, fortunately, ended with some lion-sized love. Sheila was almost euthanized, but now she gets to live out the rest of her life with her beloved lion husband.
This story makes us believe in happy endings, and it makes us want to do everything we can to make sure that no more lions are stolen from their natural homes and overworked for human entertainment.
Messi Became Sick When He Was Only Three Months Old
You might think you're a cat person, but Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev are big cat people. We're talking biiiiiig cat people. Rather than adopting your everyday tabby cat, Mariya and Aleksandr are the proud caretakers of Messi—a puma who was born into captivity and rescued from death.
Messi was one of three cougar cubs that were born at the Saransk Zoo in Penza, Russia. Messi and his brothers, Suarez and Neymar, were named after famous soccer players to pay tribute to Russia hosting four games of the World Cup. Unfortunately, Messi began having health problems when he was three months old. The Saransk Zoo did their best to take care of him but they were okay with someone taking Messi off their hands.
Aleksandr Always Dreamed Of Having A Big Cat
Messi's fate changed when Mariya and Aleksandr visited the zoo and saw him when he was eight months old. According to Mariya, Aleksandr always dreamed of owning a big housecat, and finally, their dreams might come true.
The couple thought their big housecat would be a lynx. When they found out Messi was sick and the zoo might give him up, they immediately started negotiations with to buy him and take the sick puma off their hands.
Mariya And Aleksandr Finally Brought Him Home
Mariya and Aleksandr were pleasantly surprised when the zoo agreed to let them have Messi. They knew it would be difficult, but the first thing they had to do was nurse the kitten back to health.
Mariya said that beyond the challenges of Messi being a wild animal, he was extremely weak and required constant attention for the first few months. Even once Messi returned to full health, he still only grew to about two-thirds the size of a normal puma.
There Are Other Challenges To Taking Care Of A Puma
Now that Messi is healthy, Mariya and Aleksandr have had to deal with the challenges of raising a wild animal as a house cat. The couple tried to find a wild animal trainer to help then teach Messi commands but no one agreed to work with the couple.
The couple also lives in a one-bedroom apartment. Still, they've done their best to accommodate Messi. The turned their hallway into Messi's den featuring stairs to climb and a real tree to scratch.
Basically, It's Like Owning A Dog
Eventually, the couple was able to find a dog training school that allowed Messi to attend. The puma-turned-house cat can now respond to ten different commands. Much like a dog, Messi also requires a lot of exercise.
While in captivity, Messi hadn't been active at all. The couple had a special harness and coat made for Messi so they can take him on walks. Now, they can walk Messi twice a day for an hour each time.
Of Course, There Are Still Some Dangers With Owning A Puma
While Mariya and Aleksandr insist that Messi is gentle and has the same temperament as a regular house cat, there have been some animal activists that disagree. Many activists have voiced their belief that Messi should be living in the wild, but the couple disagrees since Messi has never had to survive alongside other animals.
Other activists note that even though Messi is gentle, he still has animal instincts that could be dangerous. For now, Messi will remain with Mariya and Aleksandr as the most spoiled house cat in Russia.
Messi's Domestic Life Isn't Against The Law
Some of the animal rights activists who aren't a fan of Messi have questioned how Mariya and Aleksandr can legally own him. Some countries have stricter laws against owning what are considered to be "wild" animals, but Russia's laws are quite limited.
The only laws Russia has in place regarding wild animals are for if you injure or kill one. So technically, Mariya and Aleksandr aren't breaking any laws. Mike Tyson's tiger wasn't breaking any laws either though.
He's A Social Media Star
As the controversy around Messi continues to grow, so does his fan base. When Mariya and Aleksandr brought home Messi, they created an Instagram and YouTube account for the puma. As of May 2019, Messi's Instagram account has 944,000 followers and his YouTube channel boasts 345,000 subscribers.
If you head over to his YouTube you can see videos of Messi and Aleksandr working out together, and even a video about how to properly give a puma a bath.
Messi Doesn't Like Going To The Vet
Even though Messi is more than two years old, he still has some serious health issues that have followed him from his childhood. In particular, Messi has had to deal with muscular atrophy and rickets that likely stemmed from when he was neglected as a cub.
Messi also has to take specific minerals and vitamin supplements to keep his bones healthy. Still, he walks with a limp and has had to visit the vet several times.
They Cheer For Argentina Just For Messi
Even though Messi was originally named after Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi, both Mariya and Aleksandr couldn't care less about soccer. In an interview with Reuters, Aleksandr said the couple "are not soccer fans" but that has since changed.
Aleksandr also said now that they have Messi, the couple will watch soccer together and "cheer for the Argentina team simply because of our Messi." The global sport just gained two more fans thanks to this special puma!
It Isn't Cheap To Keep Messi Happy And Healthy
Pet owners spend an average of $1,285 on their pets every year. Americans alone spend $70 billion on pets every year. Taking care of Messi also comes with a high price tag. He is fed twice a day and his diet consists of raw turkey, beef, and chicken.
Mariya and Aleksandr say that it costs about 20,000-40,000 rubles every month to feed him. That equals out to $300-$600 just for food. That doesn't even include any of the pricey vet bills.
Messi Entertains Himself At Home
Mariya and Aleksandr have gone to great lengths to make sure Messi feels at home in their apartment. His favorite toys to play with are empty bottles and balls. He frequently plays with his miniature soccer ball that was a gift from a Brazilian journalist.
Along with his specially-crafted climbing nook, Messi has a mirrored wall so he can keep himself entertained. Or, he can just sit beside the mirrored wall looking pensive while "Reflection" from Mulan plays in the background.
The Dog Training Is Actually Working
It might sound crazy, but those dog training classes that Mariya and Aleksandr enrolled Messi in have actually worked. He knows ten commands and the list keeps growing. Messi is also perfectly fine walking in a harness and the couple says he rarely pulls.
Not only is his training working but Messi is a good friend to the other dogs in the class. All the neighborhood dogs have taken a liking to Messi and have no problems letting him learn with them.
He's Even House Trained
Not only is Messi on the way to being a well-trained puma in public, but Mariya and Aleksandr have even managed to house train him. Messi does most of his business outside when they go on walks and short day-trips.
When the option for a walk isn't there, Messi has been trained to relieve himself in the bathtub. It's the same bathtub that Messi has been trained to calmly sit in when Mariya and Aleksandr give him a bath.
Cuddling Is Messi's Favorite Pastime
When Mariya and Aleksandr brought Messi home, he was calm but he wasn't super affectionate. Over the years, Messi has slowly become affectionate towards his human family and become more and more like a typical house cat.
Messi loves to be stroked and especially loves getting scratched behind his ears. He has his own "cat" bed but will often lay with Aleksandr in the couple's bed. Messi even learned not to have his claws out when jumping on the bed.
Having A Puma Can Be Limiting
Mariya and Aleksandr admit that having a large cat-like Messi as a pet has put some limitations on their life. Right now, the only options for holidays are those within driving distance. That doesn't mean they can't find a hotel that will allow Messi to stay though.
Aleksandr, who works at a printing house in town, also admits that he can no longer join his friends for a drink after work since he has to walk Messi. Those problems won't sound unfamiliar for anyone with a dog or kids though.
There Are Some Animals He Doesn't Like
While Messi is gentle and has never attacked a human, Mariya and Aleksandr have found that there are some animals that he just doesn't like. Messi is usually timid of any animals that are larger than him and make strange sounds.
Mariya and Aleksandr found that out the hard way when they took Messi to visit a farm with cows. Luckily, Messi won't actually harm the animals. He'll just stay on guard until they are gone.
Their Housecat Isn't Much Of A Fan Either
The other animal that Messi doesn't get along with is Mariya and Aleksandr's other cat. The couple already had a six-year-old Sphynx cat named Kira before they got Messi. They introduced the two cats to each other but when Messi tried to play with Kira, she hissed and tried to claw him.
Since Kira isn't the biggest fan of Messi, Mariya and Aleksandr have made sure to keep the pair separated while in the apartment.
He Has No Idea He's A Huge Star
One of the things Mariya and Aleksandr love about Messi is that he's as down to earth as they come. Mariya said she "thanks God" he doesn't realize he's a star because "stars usually have demands."
Instead, Messi lives without any special treatment and doesn't get jealous when Mariya and Aleksandr pay attention to Kira instead. Owning a puma is already pretty demanding, so Mariya is happy that "he does not ask for royal shrimps for breakfast."
Messi Isn't The Only Big Cat They Want
You might think raising a puma and a sphynx cat would be enough for Mariya and Aleksandr, but the couple has expressed a desire for more cats. They plan to move from their apartment and into a bigger house in the near future to give their cats more space.
The pair also hope to adopt a leopard in the future as a companion for Messi. The couple will likely end up with more criticism if they adopt another large cat, but they don't seem too phased about it. All they care about is giving Messi the best life they can.