This Sick Puma Was Rescued From A Zoo And Is Now A Spoiled House Cat

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.

But Messi isn’t your average wild animal that will rip your head off the moment it sees you. Messi is the sweetest, cuddliest housecat you’ll find.

Messi Became Sick When He Was Only Three Months Old

puma housecat in a bath with bubbles
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat with paws crossed on bathtub
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat getting a big hug
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat looking out from the bathtub
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat picking out a bed to sleep on
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat out on a walk with his harness
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat sitting with owner after day at beach
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat lounging between two plants
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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 Though

puma housecat with veterinarian cone after being neutered
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat upside down after playing with owner
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat with rocks balanced on head
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat sitting beside his reflection
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat sitting with owner at dog training class
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat playing on his home built in apartment
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat sleeping in bed beside owner
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat walks through flower field in russia
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat snarling at cow in a pasture
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat sitting on owners lap in a white chair
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

The other animals that Messi doesn’t get along with is Mariya and Aleksandr’s other cat. The couple already had 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

puma housecat sitting on a stump beside two dogs
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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

puma housecat headshot after playing in the snow
@I_am_puma/Instagram
@I_am_puma/Instagram

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.

The Pastoral Life

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

This is Erikas Plucas, a farmer in Lithuania. Living on a farm next to a forest, Erikas gets to experience the wonders of nature often. Like many countryside residents, he finds solace in the peace that comes with living away from urban areas.

While he may be far from heavily populated cities and metropolitan areas, he has plenty of company. Erikas encounters both his farm animals and wild animals from the forest all the time.

An Unexpected Discovery

GettyImages-1038935610-42333
Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

One day, Erikas arrived home to discover a baby moose lying near his farm’s gate. Any animal expert knows that seeing a baby animal often means that the mother is nearby, and she could be a threat.

Erikas looked around for the mother, but she was nowhere to be found. It was then that he took a closer look at the helpless calf. He approached it slowly, so as not to frighten it. Upon inspection, Erikas was able to deduce the backstory of this young animal.

Looking For Safety

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

As Erikas slowly neared the baby moose, he realized she must be no more than two weeks old. “The first sight of her was heartbreaking,” he said. Like any young animal would be, the calf was quite scared of Erikas at first sight.

However, she was too weak to run away. Without her mother, the baby moose didn’t have food or safety. Dirty and riddled with flies, the young animal was clearly in desperate need of help.

What Happened?

GettyImages-483002389-34355
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

As Erikas looked at this weak, young moose, he began piecing together in his mind what could have possibly brought her to such a state. The clearest answer was that the mother of this young calf had been harmed.

He deduced that the baby moose must have witnessed her mother get taken out by hunters. The barely born animal would have instinctively run away in search of solitude. Whether she was too weak to go on or somehow knew that the farm would be a safe place, something had brought her to Erikas’ farm gate for a reason.

Damage Control

baby-moose-eating-61287
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Upon finding a wild animal, the first thing that comes to mind is contacting animal services. That’s exactly what Erikas did. While waiting for them to arrive, he took necessary courses of action to keep the calf alive.

He found as many green leaves as he could and offered them to the calf along with some milk. Time was of the essence since she was already in poor condition and animal services wouldn’t be able to arrive until the next day.

Lack Of Support

baby-moose-drinking-milk-59764
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

The young moose took well to the food Erikas offered. Confident that she needed to eat right away in order to survive, Erikas was happy to see that she would likely make it to the morning, after all.

Since he already contacted animal services, the next step was to solicit advice. Erikas contacted friends but was surprised that they all seemed to have the same negative reaction. They encouraged him to “let nature take care of it,” Erikas said.

Committed To Helping Her

baby-moose-laying-down-88089
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Regardless of what anyone said, it was already on Erikas’ heart to save the baby moose. A true nature-loving farmer, it wasn’t in him to simply disregard a helpless creature, especially after bringing her to safety.

The odds of this young calf surviving this far were slim, and he wasn’t going to give up on a miracle. Fortunately, he had a barn that would keep her safe from predators. However, he was met with further indifference the following day when animal services arrived.

There Was Only One Way To Keep Her Safe

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

The calf’s condition was better by the morning when animal services arrived. However, they came with sad news. Since there wasn’t a service that provided care for orphaned forest animals in Lithuania, they couldn’t offer her help.

Instead, they suggested that Erikas call local hunters and inquire if they would take the female moose off his hands. It became clear that the only way to keep her out of harm’s way would be to raise her himself.

The Start Of A Friendship

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Upon asking his friends for advice, many of them stressed their concern that it may be illegal for Erikas to take on the wild moose as his own. He brought this up with animal services, and to his surprise, they assured him that it would be okay for him to keep her.

However, they also warned him that he would be completely responsible for her from then on. Even knowing he wouldn’t receive any help from others, Erikas agreed to take care of the calf.

Afraid Of Everything

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

It was as though the young moose knew that Erikas was unlike other humans, or at least sensed his willingness to help her. She was petrified of everything except for him.

Physical healing was one thing. However, there was an emotional component that Erikas would have to work with, too. Since she had been scared from an extremely young age, he would need to put in some effort to build her confidence again.

Sudden Fatherhood

baby-moose-looking-up-43878
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Erikas named the calf Emma and committed to being there for her as long as she needed. This wasn’t an easy task while she was young. She needed to be fed frequently and craved Erikas’ presence constantly.

As soon as he would walk into the house she would cry. So, he began sleeping in the barn just to help Emma feel safe. All of his efforts were not lost on the young moose. She grew to trust Erikas above all else.

She Found Her Comfort Zone

moose-calf-laying-in-shade-34064
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Erikas continued to meet every need of Emma’s, and so she began to trust him and his farm. At last, the baby moose could feel comfortable and safe in her new home.

However, Erikas new that she couldn’t live on a farm forever. He wanted her to have a normal life and knew that meant gradually supporting her reintroduction into the wild. Emma was scared of everything outside of her safe bubble, so getting her back on her own would be a challenge.

Growing Up

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

While all of Erikas’ love and support, Emma began growing larger. Erikas knew that it was time to start taking her out of her comfort zone. He did this by taking her on walks through the forest.

He hoped that being in nature would help develop her natural instincts. Despite her traumatic experiences, Emma followed Erikas wherever he went. At first, she was hesitant to go back into the forest. However, she trusted the man who raised her.

Teaching Her The Ways Of The Wild

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Without a mother to teach her the ways of the wild, Emma was ill-equipped to take care of herself. Fortunately, Erikas knew a fair amount about nature and the forest.

As she was nearly grown, it was imperative to teach Emma all he could before releasing her back into the wild. So, Erikas walked her to safe areas that can food. He did his best to communicate to her where she should and shouldn’t go so that one day she could do it on her own.

Getting Comfortable With The Wild

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Gradually, Emma became more and more comfortable with nature. In addition to going for walks, she and Erikas began swimming together in nearby lakes. Sunshine or snow, the pair could be seen spending time outdoors.

As she began to adapt to different outdoor settings, Emma grew increasingly more comfortable and trusting. When it came to humans, however, the only one she was okay with was Erikas. He said, “To me, she is gentle and loving.”

A Gentle Giant

erikas-petting-emma-the-moose-16187
@erikasplucas/Instagram
@erikasplucas/Instagram

Emma had grown so accustomed to Erikas that she even began watching her strength when she was around him. It was because of him that she was able to grow big and strong, but that also made her a danger.

Erikas was no match to Emma now that she had all of her strength and weighed hundreds of pounds. However, that was never a problem; she was always careful not to hurt the man who had cared for her.

Too Kind To Be Hunted

moose-walking-in-snow-64441
Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Emma’s gentleness towards Erikas was something he couldn’t keep to himself. She was proof that moose were emotional creatures capable of caring for not only their own kind but for a human.

Emma was grown and nearly ready to take on life by herself. Erikas couldn’t risk Emma falling victim to the same fate that had taken her mother’s life. He had to do something to ensure Emma’s safety, at the very least for his own peace of mind.

Changing The Mind Of Hunters

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Green Global Travel/Pinterest
Green Global Travel/Pinterest

He decided to have a few hunters come over so that they could see that Emma was more than a meal. Her intelligence was evident in her ability to contain herself and avoid causing harm. Her love was also apparent in the way she was with Erikas.

Sure enough, the hunters who came over vowed not to inflict harm on the sweet animal. Some of them decided that they would avoid hunting moose altogether, while others decided they were done hunting period.

Leaving For The Day

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Thanks to the love and help of her human friend, Emma was gaining confidence. She went from being afraid of the forest, to following Erikas on walks through the forest each day.

Eventually, she began wandering off all by herself. Like a parent, Erikas had to grow accustomed to her absence and trust she would return safely. He knew that the local hunters would stay clear of harming her and that she was strong, but it still worried him.

Learning To Let Go

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Erikas Plucas/Facebook
Erikas Plucas/Facebook

Erikas’ fear spiked the first night that Emma spent the night in the forest. He recalls that he barely even slept. The very place he had taught Emma to trust was now a source of fear for Erikas.

However, he knew that this was exactly what he’d hoped for and raised her to do. Sure enough, Emma returned after each of her adventures. Safe, grown, and fully independent, she was beginning to live her life in her natural habitat.