happyworld - Meet Messi, The First Domesticated Puma

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Messi is a two-year-old puma living in the city of Penza, Russia. There is an Instagram account dedicated to him and his hijinks, which boasts almost 300,000 followers. But Messi doesn’t live in a large cat sanctuary or zoo. Instead, he lives in a normal apartment with his two human guardians and a house cat.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Aleksandr and Maria Dmitriev first met Messi when they saw him at a local petting zoo, when he was not much older than one year. As cat lovers, the Dmitrievs fell in love with him at first sight. They decided to speak to the petting zoo owners, who told them the puma’s tale.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Messi was born at the Saransk city zoo in October of 2015. By the time he was three months old, he presented a lot of health problems, so he was sold to a petting zoo. After hearing the story, the Dmitrievs asked the petting zoo owners if they could buy Messi from them. Surprisingly, they agreed.
    Instagram/I_am_puma
    The Dmitrievs knew that, even once he reached adulthood, Messi wouldn’t be able to live in the wild – he requires constant medical attention and would be an easy target for bigger pumas. So they decided to bring him home and try to domesticate him. And the couple did not take the responsibility lightly.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Aleksandr and Maria did some research and conditioned an entire room in their apartment to meet Messi’s needs. They covered the walls in bamboo and put a tree in the corner with a hiding hole. The door jambs were turned into scratching posts and an entire wall became a mirror for Messi to play with his “twin.” But his living quarters weren’t the only challenge.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Messi suffers from chronic cystitis, so he has to go to the toilet quite often. At first, the Dmitrievs put a step stool by the bathtub, so he could use it as his litter box. Eventually, they managed to potty-train him, and now take him out on bathroom walks twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. Then time came to address his other health issues.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Probably a result of neglect as a cub, Messi also suffers from rickets and muscular atrophy. Aside from vitamin and mineral supplements, the Dmitrievs started taking him on short strolls to strengthen his bones and muscles. They increased the distance every day, until past fractures made him start to limp again. So the couple changed their strategy.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Committed to keep Messi as active and healthy as possible, the Dmitrievs tried to find wild animal handlers to help train him. Everyone refused, until a bobcat trainer agreed to do it. He began training Messi in one-on-one sessions at first, then took him to group classes at a local dog training school. The puma proved to be quite smart, learning the basic commands pretty fast. At home, things were improving too.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    As Messi began to open up, he also became more affectionate towards the Dmitrievs. Like any other cat, it turned out he really likes to cuddle and be stroked, and he also likes to play. Playing with an animal with such powerful claws might sound like a bad idea, but Messi soon learned to play without drawing his claws and not bite. But not everyone was happy to have him there.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Before bringing Messi home, the Dmitrievs already had a pet: a six-year-old Sphynx cat named Kira. Upon meeting her, Messi immediately wanted to play – but she wasn’t interested. She lashed at him with her claws and hissed at him, and hasn’t warmed up to him since. That’s not to say he doesn’t keep trying. It may seem they’ve turned Messi into a domestic cat, but the couple know he has special needs.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Aleksandr and Maria knew they couldn’t just feed Messi cat food or even human food. They did their research to figure out what nutrients a big cat like him needs, and now feed him a strict diet of raw meat products. The Dmitrievs have been very diligent to ensure Messi has a good life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have detractors.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Animal rights activists and environmental organizations have called on the Dmitrievs to surrender Messi to a sanctuary or wildlife reserve. They claim a wild animal can never be fully domesticated and can pose dangerous threats. They also say it encourages illegal wildlife trade that is harmful to animals. But Aleksandr and Maria are confident that they are doing the right thing.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    The Dmitrievs believe, given Messi’s unique situation and health problems, he would not be equipped to live on his own – even in a protected environment such as a sanctuary. They’re adamant that Messi is one of a kind and discourage people from following their example. Others might disagree, but it seems Messi’s fate lies with them.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Animal welfare laws in Russia are very limited, only addressing the causing of injury or death to animals. There are no laws regulating wild animal ownership, so people like the Dmitrievs are within the legal boundaries to keep them. Meanwhile, as the controversy rages, Messi’s online fame continues to rise.

    Instagram/I_am_puma
    Messi has a YouTube channel with almost 25,000 subscribers, but it’s on Instagram where he has become wildly popular. Boasting 295,000 followers, the puma’s hijinks have enamored people all around the world. Though he is only two years old and is yet to reach full maturity, it seems he has adapted to his domestic environment and loves Aleksandr and Maria just as much as they love him.

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