Meet Messi, a 90 lb puma named after a well-known soccer player. When he was just eight-months-old, the cub was spotted by a couple at the Saransk Zoo in Penza, Russia. 

Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev believed the cub was malnourished. The pair reportedly weighed the pros and cons of adopting the big cat. After several days, they came to a decision and made an offer to the zoo and were delighted to be allowed to adopt the puma. 

Messi is now fully grown. And while animal rights activists claim it is not humane to keep the big cat in a one-bedroom apartment, the Dmitrievs say the puma is happy, healthy, and part of their family.

According to 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,” she told the Mirror.

“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. So we went to the zoo and started negotiations to buy Messi. We were surprised ourselves when they agreed.”

Caring for the puma has proven to be challenging in more ways than one. For instance, the cat needed extra medical attention and care. Mariya told the press, “he was quite weak and demanded a lot of attention.” Reportedly, Messi is only two-thirds of the size of the average puma.

Like many other pets, Messi requires a lot of exercise. That’s why the Dmitrievs purchased a special harness and coat for the puma. “He is like a dog. We started taking him for a walk, step by step. The animal hadn’t been really active before,” Aleksandr told 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.”

Finding a wild animal handler was not easy. The couple settled for a dog training school that allowed the puma to attend. Messi now knows about 10 different commands. “He convinced us with his behavior that he’s a full member of our family and that he wouldn’t be doing anything bad apart from some small naughty things. He’s very kind and likes contact. He gets on very well with people,” said Aleksandr.

The family documents their life with the exotic cat on social media and people seem to love it. The real Messi has over 660,000 followers on Instagram and over 170k subscribers on his YouTube account.

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Месси выбрал себе новые матрасики и поблагодарил любимого Па)) Продавцы в нашей любимой Зооландии просто растаяли🤗 Как здорово, что можно прийти в магазин вместе со своим любимцем и на месте померить и подобрать подходящий размер👍 . Messi chose a new mattress for himself and thanked the beloved Pa)) The sellers in our beloved Zooland simply melted🤗 How great it is that you can come to the store with your pet and try on the spot and find the right size👍 #kitten#kittens#instapet#mycat#catlover#animal#animals#cat#cats#puma#myfamily#pet#pets#messi#семья#кот#котенок#кошка#mypet#lovecat#lovecats#zoo#instacat#instacats#котик#котэ#meow #kitty#iampuma#пумамесси

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Пума Месси и леопард Маша Маева @maevamasha ✌🏻😎 Ещё никогда встреча двух больших котиков не была такой позитивной!!! Смотрите эти видео на наших страничках YouTube! И подписывайтесь в инстаграм! Это человек-праздник😉✌🏻 Meeting of two big cats))) Puma Messi and leopard Mawa Maeva @maevamasha ✌🏻😎 Come and subscribe! she is a positive person! #kitten#kittens#instapet#mycat#catlover#animal#animals#cat#cats#puma#myfamily#pet#pets#messi#семья#кот#котенок#кошка#mypet#lovecat#lovecats#zoo#instacat#instacats#котик#котэ#meow #kitty#cutecat#kittycat

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Unsurprisingly, animal activists have objections to the Russian family keeping Messi as a pet in their small home. They say the puma belongs in a reserve or in a sanctuary. Others have noted the danger of living with a wild animal like Messi. The couple is adamant that Messi wouldn’t survive in the wild, however. “Of course it’s quite dangerous having such a large cat at home, but Messi is a special animal,” Mariya told the Mirror.

Should large, exotic animals be allowed to live in cramped, urban environments? This controversial question has many answers. What do you think? Comment your thoughts below and share this news!