Sheila the white lioness had a rough start in life. Instead of living out in the wild like a normal lion, she spent most of her life performing for human audiences. She worked as a performer at private parties. Life in captivity was hard on Sheila, and eventually, her health started to suffer.
Her owners couldn’t afford proper veterinary care for such a large and unique animal, so when she could no longer work, she was turned over to a rescue center. When she first arrived at the center, her situation looked hopeless. Then something amazing happened…
Sheila’s First Day At The Rescue Center
In July of 2009, Sheila was rescued by the U.S Department of Agriculture. This organization is used to seeing wild animals in poor condition, but Sheila’s case was especially severe.
Seila was severely underweight. She was weak, and she could barely stand. she was tired all the time and she barely interacted with her rescuers. The employees at the rescue center realized that there wasn’t much hope for Sheila, but they decided to take a chance and try to make her feel better.
Why She Was In Such Bad Shape
Before being rescued, Sheila was the property of an entertainment center in Texas. She would make her owner a lot of money by entertaining guests at fancy, very expensive parties. There were other lions who worked for the entertainment center, but Sheila was the most valuable and most popular lion they had because of her stark white coloring.
She had to do more work than any of the other lions, and therefore she suffered the most. Sheila’s caretaker didn’t treat Sheila very well. Keahey, founder of In-Sync Organization explained, “when they are no longer useful to him, he throws them aside and stops taking care of them.”
No Life For A Lioness
Sheila had spent her entire life in captivity since she had been working since she was old enough to be separated from her mother. When she was a cub, she lived as a pet and appeared in commercials and paper ads.
When she got a bit older, she began working in the entertainment industry. Sheila hasn’t had a break from working since she was a cub. All of that work took a massive toll on her health and her mood.
The Problem Was Getting Worse
All of that time in captivity under the care of an owner who didn’t have Sheila’s best interest at heart caused Shelia to suffer from a coordination problem. Sheila was having trouble standing up on her own. The staff at the rescue center realized that her muscles were too weak to support her body weight.
At one point, Sheila was so week that she couldn’t even lift her head to eat or drink. It was as though the lioness had completely lost her will to live.
There Are Others Like Her
Sadly, what happened to Sheila happens pretty frequently to animals all over the world. People think that they can take animals from the wild and use them for their own entertainment. The documentary Blackfish explores the dangerous consequences of removing killer whales from the ocean and keeping them in small tanks for human enjoyment.
Most animals that end up in places like Sea World or in circuses aren’t very well cared for. They live short lives and they never get to experience true freedom.
Calling In The Experts
After the U.S. Department of Agriculture realized how severe Sheila’s condition was, they knew they had to call in for backup. They reached out to an animal social welfare organization known as In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center.
This organization specializes in caring for animals that have been neglected or abused. They have lots of experience working with exotic animals, big cats, and wildlife of all sorts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture turned over Sheila to them as a last-ditch effort. They said if Sheila didn’t improve, the only humane thing to do would be to euthanize her.
A Slow Process
It took Sheila a while to settle into In-Sync. She wasn’t accustomed to these new surroundings, and for a while, she wasn’t responding to treatment at all. The rescue team never gave up on her though.
When Sheila refused to eat, the team would sit with her and hand feed her bits of raw meat. The founder of In Sync said, “For two weeks, I had to go in with Sheila and hand-feed her.” She added, “I’d take meatballs balls and literally stuff them down her throat.”
Nothing Was Working
The team at In-Sync was working around the clock to try to make Sheila better. It seemed like nothing was working. Sheila wasn’t gaining very much weight, and she was still too weak to stand up on her own.
One In-Sync member said, “She had very little muscle coordination, and thus when she walked, her legs would slip out from under her.” The In-Sync team tried to coax Sheila out of her den so she could get some exercise, but she was having none of it.
A Very Sick Lioness
The team at In-Sync rescue was used to working with wild animals in various states of illness and health, but they had never seen an animal who was this slow to recover. They were giving Sheila all of the care and support she could hope for, but still, this lion refused to get better. It was as though she had given up on herself and her recovery.
After days of hand-feeding and care, Sheila went from barely lifting her legs, to barely moving at all. She would throw up whatever food the team managed to feed her.
A Painfully Difficult Decision
Sheila looked like a lost cause. The In-Sync team was doing everything they could to help her, but they realized that they couldn’t help her if she didn’t want to help herself. Years of working in the entertainment industry had completely broken her spirit.
The team started to actually consider the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s suggestion to euthanize Sheila. They didn’t want to end Sheila’s life, but letting her go peacefully was starting to look like a viable option.
This Girl Is One Of A Kind
Sheila wasn’t just any old lion— she was special. The reason Sheila was worked half to death was that she was worth so much to her previous owner. Sheila has gorgeous white blonde fur that separates her from other lions.
These blonde lionesses are only found in Timbavati and South Africa. The In-Sync team knew that Sheila was so much more than just the color of her fur, though. She was a living creature who deserved a full and happy life.
A Diagnosis For Sheila
After extensive veterinary tests and procedures, the In-Sync team was able to gain some more information about Sheila’s condition. They discovered that this beautiful lioness was suffering from a disease called toxoplasmosis, as well as a lack of vitamin A.
Even though this diagnosis spelled trouble for Sheila, knowing what was wrong with her was the first step in helping her get better. Sheila had parasites in her blood, which can be fatal for big cats.
All About Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is an infection that’s quite common in large cats who aren’t properly cared for. Animals can get toxoplasmosis when their immune system becomes too weak to fight off infections.
Sheila spent years not receiving proper medical care, and that caused her immune system to get weaker. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include reduced coordination, disorientation, anorexia, lethargy, breathing difficulties, enlarged lymph nodes, and apparent blindness. If an animal doesn’t receive proper care for toxoplasmosis, it can be fatal.
She Didn’t Want To Take Her Medicine
Now that the rescue team at In-Sync knew what the problem was, they could start treating Sheila with antibiotics. Sheila had already been living with this condition for some time though, so only time could tell if the antibiotics would actually work.
These antibiotics were Sheila’s only hope for recovery. Sheila is a stubborn lion, though and she didn’t like taking her medicine. The In-Sync team would work for hours, stuffing her pills into tasty morsels of food to help her get the antibiotics down.
Things Were Looking Better For Sheila
Thankfully, the antibiotics worked like a charm. Just a few days into her antibiotics regimen, Sheila was able to walk and eat on her own. The In-Sync team was thrilled with Sheila’s progress.
The In-Sync team suspected that Sheila was doing so well because of the medication she was taking, but they also knew that the antibiotics couldn’t be working that well that quickly. There must have been another reason for sheila’s drastic and hasty improvement.
Why The Sudden Improvement?
In a Facebook post, In-Sync stated, “Sheila has made a remarkable improvement. She has regained muscle control, swallows easily, and runs and hops like a bunny.” The people who worked with Sheila every day were astounded with how much she had changed in such a short period of time. This lioness who couldn’t even lift her head to eat a week ago was now livelier and happier than ever before.
They knew the antibiotics were working, but there was another healing factor at play…
A Helpful Neighbor
Sheila wasn’t the only lion at the In-Sync rescue facility. In Fact, there was another lion enclosure right next to Sheila’s enclosure. There was someone special in that enclosure who was making Sheila feel happier and healthier.
It didn’t take long for the staff members at In-Sync to realize what was happening. Still, what was happening between the bars of these lion enclosures was excited, shocking, and almost unbelievable. Sheila’s neighbor was instrumental in her rapid recovery.
This Is Kahn
Meet Khan, Sheila’s very lovely neighbor. Kahn is a handsome male lion, and it seemed like Sheila was developing feelings for this stunning boy. As soon Sheila and Kahn met, they formed a very close bond.
The rescue team realized that it was Sheila’s connection with Khan that allowed her to recover so quickly. Now that she had a friend, she also had a will to live. Sheila and Kahn have very similar backstories. Perhaps a shared past was making their bond even stronger.
Khan’s Tragic Story
Khan was rescued by In-Sync just a few months before Sheila. He is a six-year-old male lion who also used to work in the entertainment industry. Khan was also from Texas and he was also severely mistreated by his previous owners. When he first got to In-Sync, he was in bad shape, just like Sheila was.
The In-Sync team started theorizing that maybe these two were able to connect so quickly because they already had so much in common.
Khan Never Got Used To Performing
Before he was rescued, Khan used to perform for audiences all the time. He would entertain party gusts by standing up on his hind legs and showing off his ferocious roar. Khan was making his owners a lot of money. Sometimes he would even perform at multiple events in a single day. He was being severely overworked and he never really got used to living in captivity.
All of the work made Khan very sick, but his owners couldn’t afford to let him stop doing shows.
What Happens When You Mistreat A Wild Animal
When Kahn arrived at the In-Syn rescue center, he was in horrible condition. This now-massive male lion only weighed 100 pounds. Male lions his age are supposed to weigh at least 200 pounds. He was extremely malnourished and he had scars all over his body from being beaten into submission by his previous owner.
His bones were also misshapen and malformed because he was forced to live in a cage that was too small for him.
A Gruesome Act Of Desperation
Khan became so depressed and so full of anxiety that he started chewing on his own tail. By the time he arrived at the In-Syn rescue center, the tip of his tail had been completely chewed raw. It was red and swollen and totally hairless. Had Khan not been rescued in time, he would have developed a fatal skin infection.
Keahey explained, “When Kahn came, the end of his tail was completely chewed off and [he] was very thin.”
Khan Had Quite An Attitude
Because of the way he had been treated, Kahn was quite aggressive when he first arrived at the rescue center. The In-Sync team found it difficult to care for him or interact with him at all because of how distrustful he was of humans. Khan was also very aggressive around food because, in the past, he never had enough of it.
The way that his previous owners had treated him had turned Khan into a danger to everybody around him.
A Fighter Through And Through
After some time at the rescue center, Khan learned that food wasn’t scarce and people could be trusted. Unlike Sheila, Khan never lost his will to live. Khan never stopped fighting for survival, so he was able to recover much more quickly than Sheila did.
Khan quickly made friends with many of the other lions at the rescue center. he enjoyed being around other lions and knowing that he wasn’t alone. Khan seemed to be enjoying his retired life. He was only aggressive because of his health issues, and now that those issues were resolved, he was a much calmer animal.
Kahn Finally Had A Home
It took some time for Kahn to adjust to his new surroundings, but pretty soon he felt right at home in his roomy enclosure. He had so much space to stretch and play. One of the employees at the center became really close to Kahn. This member of the rescue team built Kahn some cinderblock steps so he could get in and out of his enclosure more easily.
After years of hard labor and abuse, Kahn finally found a place where he felt comfortable.
No Longer Isolated
Lions are social creatures. In the wild, they live in large groups called prides. That’s why it’s especially heartbreaking that both Sheila and Kahn were separated from other lions for so long. As soon as Sheila and Kahn saw each other, there was a spark between them.
They became fast friends, and this friendship was the key to Sheila’s recovery. Kahn was able to recover on his own, but Sheila needed a bit more help.
Trauma Affects Everyone Differently
Both Sheila and Kahn were abused by owners who put their own greed above the wellbeing of their animals. Even though Sheila and Kahn had been through similar experiences, their responses to these experiences were much different.
The in-sync founder explained ‘It was easy to treat him and get him comfortable with his new surroundings. Sheila, on the other hand, was in very bad shape … Sheila was almost dead.” Lions, like all other living creatures, have unique personalities, and they all react to trauma in their own way.
Starting A New Life Together
Keahey opened up about how both Sheila and Kahn were doing at the rescue center: “As time went by they both healed and grew into beautifully grown lions.” She continued, “In the meanwhile, we had finished our new lion enclosure. The way it was designed would have Kahn and Sheila living next door to each other.”
It’s now clear that these two were mean to find each other. Kahn and Sheila had developed a beautiful, loving relationship.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
Kahn and Sheila started out as friends, but their friendship quickly developed into something more. These two became inseparable. Wherever Kahn went, Sheila followed. Keahey said, “Sheila spent the next few months showing off for Kahn, and Kahn strutted his stuff for her.”
This is the kind of love story you only see in Disney movies. Kahn and Sheila were a real-life Simba and Nala, only these two had beat the odds together and survived something truly horrendous.
Even Lions Have To Take Precautions
The staff members at In-Sync saw how close these two were getting, so they decided to have Sheila spayed. They didn’t want any more lions to be born in captivity. Lions belong in the wild where they can run free and live without cages.
Vicky, who works at In-Sync explained, “we did short dates every day, then the dates got longer and then the dates became unsupervised.” Now that Sheila was spayed, Kahn and Sheila were allowed to spend even more time together.
A Wild Wedding
Vicky continued, “Then we let them spend the night together. After three months of dating, we let them get ‘married.’ A special enclose has been built for them where they spend their ‘we’ time together. In their relationship, Sheila seems to be the boss.”
Everyone at In-Sync was so happy that these two lions had found love with one another. A lion wedding may be a little unconventional, but nothing about this whole situation was really normal anyway.
A Life As Husband And Wife
After they were “married,” Sheila and Kahn became even closer than they were before. It was clear that Sheila was absolutely head over paws for her new “husband.” Vicky mentioned that Kahn actually started to become very protective of Sheila. He gets jealous when other lions look at his “wife.”
Kahn and Sheila would sleep together and even spoon whenever they were allowed to spend time in the same enclosure. It was a magical sight to behold.
Kahn Keeps Sheila Safe
Kahn and Sheila have stayed strong through the toughest of circumstances. They lived most of their lives alone, and now they were finally together. Kahn knows how lucky he is to have a “wife” like Sheila, and he always makes sure that she’s safe and well cared for.
Vicky mentioned that Kahn can get quite territorial when it comes to Sheila, saying, “Then Kahn lets that guy know she belongs to him. He roars and sometimes charges at them.”
The Fate Of Their Abusers
The man who abused Sheila is now no longer allowed to own or care for wild animals of any kind. He can no longer profit off of show lions, which has affected his business and how much money he is able to make.
The man didn’t receive any jail time and he didn’t have to pay any fines. Many animal rights activists wanted him to face a more severe punishment for what he did to Sheila and many other animals.
Thank Goodness For Wildlife Rescues
Thanks to various wildlife rescue services, both Sheila and Kahn were able to recover and even find love after living in horrible conditions for many years. Sheila almost had to be euthanized, but thanks to a big-hearted lion named Kahn, she is now thriving in her new home.
Sometimes sad stories do have happy endings. Sheila and Kahn are loving their new lives. It’s up to us to do everything in our power to protect these magnificent animals.
Messi Became Sick When He Was Only Three Months Old
You might think you’re a cat person, but Mariya and Aleksandr Dmitriev are big cat people. We’re talking biiiiiig cat people. Rather than adopting your everyday tabby cat, Mariya and Aleksandr are the proud caretakers of Messi—a puma who was born into captivity and rescued from death.
Messi was one of three cougar cubs that were born at the Saransk Zoo in Penza, Russia. Messi and his brothers, Suarez and Neymar, were named after famous soccer players to pay tribute to Russia hosting four games of the World Cup. Unfortunately, Messi began having health problems when he was three months old. The Saransk Zoo did their best to take care of him but they were okay with someone taking Messi off their hands.
Aleksandr Always Dreamed Of Having A Big Cat
Messi’s fate changed when Mariya and Aleksandr visited the zoo and saw him when he was eight months old. According to Mariya, Aleksandr always dreamed of owning a big housecat, and finally, their dreams might come true.
The couple thought their big housecat would be a lynx. When they found out Messi was sick and the zoo might give him up, they immediately started negotiations with to buy him and take the sick puma off their hands.
Mariya And Aleksandr Finally Brought Him Home
Mariya and Aleksandr were pleasantly surprised when the zoo agreed to let them have Messi. They knew it would be difficult, but the first thing they had to do was nurse the kitten back to health.
Mariya said that beyond the challenges of Messi being a wild animal, he was extremely weak and required constant attention for the first few months. Even once Messi returned to full health, he still only grew to about two-thirds the size of a normal puma.
There Are Other Challenges To Taking Care Of A Puma
Now that Messi is healthy, Mariya and Aleksandr have had to deal with the challenges of raising a wild animal as a house cat. The couple tried to find a wild animal trainer to help then teach Messi commands but no one agreed to work with the couple.
The couple also lives in a one-bedroom apartment. Still, they’ve done their best to accommodate Messi. The turned their hallway into Messi’s den featuring stairs to climb and a real tree to scratch.
Basically, It’s Like Owning A Dog
Eventually, the couple was able to find a dog training school that allowed Messi to attend. The puma-turned-house cat can now respond to ten different commands. Much like a dog, Messi also requires a lot of exercise.
While in captivity, Messi hadn’t been active at all. The couple had a special harness and coat made for Messi so they can take him on walks. Now, they can walk Messi twice a day for an hour each time.
Of Course, There Are Still Some Dangers With Owning A Puma
While Mariya and Aleksandr insist that Messi is gentle and has the same temperament as a regular house cat, there have been some animal activists that disagree. Many activists have voiced their belief that Messi should be living in the wild, but the couple disagrees since Messi has never had to survive alongside other animals.
Other activists note that even though Messi is gentle, he still has animal instincts that could be dangerous. For now, Messi will remain with Mariya and Aleksandr as the most spoiled house cat in Russia.
Messi’s Domestic Life Isn’t Against The Law
Some of the animal rights activists who aren’t a fan of Messi have questioned how Mariya and Aleksandr can legally own him. Some countries have stricter laws against owning what are considered to be “wild” animals, but Russia’s laws are quite limited.
The only laws Russia has in place regarding wild animals are for if you injure or kill one. So technically, Mariya and Aleksandr aren’t breaking any laws. Mike Tyson’s tiger wasn’t breaking any laws either though.
He’s A Social Media Star
As the controversy around Messi continues to grow, so does his fan base. When Mariya and Aleksandr brought home Messi, they created an Instagram and YouTube account for the puma. As of May 2019, Messi’s Instagram account has 944,000 followers and his YouTube channel boasts 345,000 subscribers.
If you head over to his YouTube you can see videos of Messi and Aleksandr working out together, and even a video about how to properly give a puma a bath.
Messi Doesn’t Like Going To The Vet
Even though Messi is more than two years old, he still has some serious health issues that have followed him from his childhood. In particular, Messi has had to deal with muscular atrophy and rickets that likely stemmed from when he was neglected as a cub.
Messi also has to take specific minerals and vitamin supplements to keep his bones healthy. Still, he walks with a limp and has had to visit the vet several times.
They Cheer For Argentina Just For Messi
Even though Messi was originally named after Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi, both Mariya and Aleksandr couldn’t care less about soccer. In an interview with Reuters, Aleksandr said the couple “are not soccer fans” but that has since changed.
Aleksandr also said now that they have Messi, the couple will watch soccer together and “cheer for the Argentina team simply because of our Messi.” The global sport just gained two more fans thanks to this special puma!
It Isn’t Cheap To Keep Messi Happy And Healthy
Pet owners spend an average of $1,285 on their pets every year. Americans alone spend $70 billion on pets every year. Taking care of Messi also comes with a high price tag. He is fed twice a day and his diet consists of raw turkey, beef, and chicken.
Mariya and Aleksandr say that it costs about 20,000-40,000 rubles every month to feed him. That equals out to $300-$600 just for food. That doesn’t even include any of the pricey vet bills.
Messi Entertains Himself At Home
Mariya and Aleksandr have gone to great lengths to make sure Messi feels at home in their apartment. His favorite toys to play with are empty bottles and balls. He frequently plays with his miniature soccer ball that was a gift from a Brazilian journalist.
Along with his specially-crafted climbing nook, Messi has a mirrored wall so he can keep himself entertained. Or, he can just sit beside the mirrored wall looking pensive while “Reflection” from Mulan plays in the background.
The Dog Training Is Actually Working
It might sound crazy, but those dog training classes that Mariya and Aleksandr enrolled Messi in have actually worked. He knows ten commands and the list keeps growing. Messi is also perfectly fine walking in a harness and the couple says he rarely pulls.
Not only is his training working but Messi is a good friend to the other dogs in the class. All the neighborhood dogs have taken a liking to Messi and have no problems letting him learn with them.
He’s Even House Trained
Not only is Messi on the way to being a well-trained puma in public, but Mariya and Aleksandr have even managed to house train him. Messi does most of his business outside when they go on walks and short day-trips.
When the option for a walk isn’t there, Messi has been trained to relieve himself in the bathtub. It’s the same bathtub that Messi has been trained to calmly sit in when Mariya and Aleksandr give him a bath.
Cuddling Is Messi’s Favorite Pastime
When Mariya and Aleksandr brought Messi home, he was calm but he wasn’t super affectionate. Over the years, Messi has slowly become affectionate towards his human family and become more and more like a typical house cat.
Messi loves to be stroked and especially loves getting scratched behind his ears. He has his own “cat” bed but will often lay with Aleksandr in the couple’s bed. Messi even learned not to have his claws out when jumping on the bed.
Having A Puma Can Be Limiting
Mariya and Aleksandr admit that having a large cat-like Messi as a pet has put some limitations on their life. Right now, the only options for holidays are those within driving distance. That doesn’t mean they can’t find a hotel that will allow Messi to stay though.
Aleksandr, who works at a printing house in town, also admits that he can no longer join his friends for a drink after work since he has to walk Messi. Those problems won’t sound unfamiliar for anyone with a dog or kids though.
There Are Some Animals He Doesn’t Like
While Messi is gentle and has never attacked a human, Mariya and Aleksandr have found that there are some animals that he just doesn’t like. Messi is usually timid of any animals that are larger than him and make strange sounds.
Mariya and Aleksandr found that out the hard way when they took Messi to visit a farm with cows. Luckily, Messi won’t actually harm the animals. He’ll just stay on guard until they are gone.
Their Housecat Isn’t Much Of A Fan Either
The other animal that Messi doesn’t get along with is Mariya and Aleksandr’s other cat. The couple already had a six-year-old Sphynx cat named Kira before they got Messi. They introduced the two cats to each other but when Messi tried to play with Kira, she hissed and tried to claw him.
Since Kira isn’t the biggest fan of Messi, Mariya and Aleksandr have made sure to keep the pair separated while in the apartment.
He Has No Idea He’s A Huge Star
One of the things Mariya and Aleksandr love about Messi is that he’s as down to earth as they come. Mariya said she “thanks God” he doesn’t realize he’s a star because “stars usually have demands.”
Instead, Messi lives without any special treatment and doesn’t get jealous when Mariya and Aleksandr pay attention to Kira instead. Owning a puma is already pretty demanding, so Mariya is happy that “he does not ask for royal shrimps for breakfast.”
Messi Isn’t The Only Big Cat They Want
You might think raising a puma and a sphynx cat would be enough for Mariya and Aleksandr, but the couple has expressed a desire for more cats. They plan to move from their apartment and into a bigger house in the near future to give their cats more space.
The pair also hope to adopt a leopard in the future as a companion for Messi. The couple will likely end up with more criticism if they adopt another large cat, but they don’t seem too phased about it. All they care about is giving Messi the best life they can.