Aleksandr and Maria Dmitriev, a young couple from Penza, Russia, have been sharing their home with a mountain lion for the past three years.

Cats are in the top two most common pets worldwide, but the cat Aleksandr and Maria Dmitriev live with in their small one-bedroom apartment is a little different. Messi is a 3-year-old cougar, the second-largest feline in the Americas, after the Jaguar. In the wild, it is considered an apex predator, but Messi was born in a petting zoo and has spent most of his life as a house cat, so he basically behaves like an overgrown cat, for now. The Dmitriev’s are aware that Messi is a predator that will, at some point, test their strength to establish who is in charge of the house, but they have taken steps to keep his wild side in check.

Aleksandr and Maria, both trained psychologists, have always loved cats, but never dreamed of actually sharing their home with a mountain lion, Their hairless Sphynx, Kira, had always been enough for them, but in 2018, when they heard that a newborn cougar cub at the local petting zoo in Penza was in serious need of medical attention, they couldn’t just sit by. The two describe the petting zoo where the animals live in small enclosures where visitors come in to pet them, so they decided to give this ill cub a better chance at life.

The young couple knew that if they didn’t rescue the young mountain lion, it would likely die, but they also knew that the zoo wasn’t just going to give it to them. So they decided to buy him, and were surprised when the petting zoo actually accepted. They brought Messi home and managed to nurse him back to health, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that if they wanted to keep him, they had to make some adjustments around their home.

For the most part, Messi acts like a big cat, but it’s this size that posed some problems. Aleksandr and Maria converted the hallway of the apartment into the feline’s headquarters, lining the walls with bamboo panels which are better suited to withstand its sharp talons and can easily be replaced. They also brought in a large tree trunk that it could climb, complete with its own little hiding place at the bottom. But Messi’s favorite place in the house is the bathroom window, from where he can see the endless grasslands around the apartment building.

Aleksandr and Maria Dmitriev quickly realized that they needed a way to keep Messi in check if they wanted to live together in harmony, but training a mountain lion wasn’t something they were prepared for. Luckily, they found a dog trainer willing to include their unusual pet in one of their classes, and the results were impressive. Messi now follows basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come” and “no,” and even to walk on a leash.

Exercise is really important for Messi’s well-being, but he doesn’t really have the space for it in the Dmitrievs’ apartment, and it’s not like they can just set him loose in the local park, so the fact that he has been trained to walk on a leash is really important. So if you’re even in Penza, Russia, you may just come across a really strange sight – someone walking a full-grown mountain lion on a leash.

The couple’s experience with Messi so far has been “incredibly positive”, but they both admit that living with a big cat does have its challenges. For one, the constant attention means that they can’t take vacations, or even hang out with their friends. A cat sitter for a cat this size is out of the question as well. Then there is the need for raw meat in Messi’s diet, which can cost up to $600 a month.

Aleksandr and Maria’s next goal is to switch their one-bedroom apartment for a larger house, where they can offer Messi the space he needs. If they manage to accomplish this goal, they plan to also get a playmate for their pet, another big cat, hopefully a leopard.

Judging by the most recent photos uploaded to their social media profiles, the Dmitrievs have managed to move to a bigger house, and they’ve also gotten a new friend for Messi. Only it’s not a leopard, but a cheetah.

Messi has become somewhat of an online celebrity on social media, sporting an enviable 1.5 million followers on Instagram, 1.8 millions subscribers on YouTube and many more on other platforms.


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