Messi is a mellow cat with one distinct difference from your typical feline—he’s a puma! The creature, named after the famous soccer player, was rescued by Aleksandr and Mariya Dmitriev in 2016 after living in a petting zoo in Penza, Russia. At the zoo, Messi suffered health problems at just three months old. The institution decided that because pumas were not native to Russia, it wasn’t possible to release Messi into the wild, and his health issues prevented him from living in another zoo or animal sanctuary. They had planned to euthanize him.
It was “love at first sight” when Aleksandr and Mariya first saw Messi at the zoo. The couple decided they had to take in the young puma and, after working with the zoo, they were able to take him home. Once there, they began to nurse Messi back to health. He was “weak and demanded a lot of attention,” but ultimately overcame his ailments. Now full-grown, Messi is smaller than the average puma at two-thirds the size.
At home, Messi acts like a cross between a dog and a cat. Like a pup, he requires a lot of exercise, and Aleksandr and Mariya take him on walks twice a day. They also go to training classes several times a week, and Messi has learned 10 commands. But when he’s relaxing at home, he loves to climb into boxes, scratch on his post, and lounge with his favorite people. The domesticated puma also enjoys being petted and will gladly play with his humans—without using his claws.
Messi has become an internet celebrity over the years. He even has an Instagram account with over one million followers and a popular YouTube channel. Scroll down for some adorable photos of Messi and then follow him on Instagram to see more. It looks as though he’ll soon be sharing his account with Ichel, a cheetah that Aleksandr and Mariya rescued at the beginning of 2020.