By Kristiana Hall and Sergei Bezberdy
This couple are certainly living on the wild side – having taken in a pet puma.
Mariya and Alexander Dmitriev fell in love with kitten Messi so much that they
bought him from their local zoo in Penza, Russia.
Nursing the weak puma, now two-and-a-half, back to the health, the couple fell in love with the wild cat even more.
They have since adapted their hallway into a puma play pen, and invested in a special coat and harness for him so they can take him on walks.
Mariya, 28, said: “We live together with a puma, and his name is Messi, after the famous footballer.
“He got his name from the zoo in Saransk where he was born, who had three puma kittens and decided to name them all after famous players in honour of the World Cup.
“When Messi was three months old he was sold to the zoo in our city Penza. That’s where we saw him for the first time and it was love at first site.
“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.
“We were so happy, and even though he was quite weak and demanded a lot of attention, we didn’t regret our decision at all.
According to Mariya, Alexander, 38, had always wanted to have a big cat come and live with them, but getting a puma was a surprise.
She said: “Alexander loves animals so much and had been dreaming about having a big cat for his whole life. But 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.
“Because of his health problems he is only two-thirds the size of a normal puma and only weighs 90lbs, but that’s still 10 times more than an average cat.
“Of course it’s quite dangerous having such a large cat at home, but Messi is a special animal.
“Everyone who knows him thinks he is a human in a puma’s skin. He is very talkative and always answers when we speak to him. Sometimes he agrees with what we say, but sometimes he can be insulted. He’s and incredible animal.
“We are so lucky he is like he is and we would not recommend having wild cats at home.
The couple already had a cat when they bought Messi, and despite Messi’s calm temperament the two have not been able to get along.
Mariya said: “We have a sphynx cat and her name is Kira. She has been living with us for a long time and she didn’t support us when we got her a new friend.
“She doesn’t want to be friends with Messi and hisses at him whenever she sees him. We don’t allow him to get close to her.”