When Simba and Diego first met, it was clear which was the little brother.
Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum purchased Simba, an American pit bull terrier, in April at 8 weeks old and introduced him to 13-year-old Diego, his family's American bulldog.
It wasn't necessarily love at first sight, but the two dogs developed a bond.
"They get along pretty well, until Simba gets on Diego's nerves," Wonnum said. "Simba starts pestering him, bothering him, and Diego has to let him know, you know, 'This is my home.'
"He'll be like, 'Relax. We can be friends, but just chill out a little bit,' " Wonnum added, laughing. "But other than that, they get along pretty well and play together."
While Diego lives back home in Georgia with Wonnum's parents, Simba keeps the defensive end company in his Eagan apartment.
Wonnum first decided to acquire a puppy due to increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and although they duo encountered the expected learning curves early on, adding Simba to his life has made Wonnum's days exponentially better.
"He was biting everything. I've got chewed-up gloves, shoes. Pretty much chewed-up everything. He liked to nip a lot, too, so I had to get him away from that," Wonnum said, shaking his head. "But his favorite place is going under the bed. Under the bed is like his treasure spot. He'll take socks, all kinds of stuff, and just put them under the bed, and I find it all like a week or two later. I'm like, 'C'mon, man.'
"But he's definitely outgoing. He's, like, the life of the party," he continued of Simba. "He's full of energy, and he gets along with pretty much everybody, every dog. It's just a joy to be around him."
Wonnum named the tan-colored pup with a white marking on his chest after The Lion King, one of his favorite Disney movies. And like the lion cub in the 1994 animated flick, Wonnum's Simba can be a bit of a boundary tester from time to time.
View photos of Vikings DE D.J. Wonnum and his American pit bull terrier, Simba, in this edition of Purple Pups.
The 24-year-old recalled a time when Simba left behind some smelly "surprises" hidden for Wonnum to find.
"Simba's kind of sneaky. I have a two-bedroom apartment, and I take him outside, he goes outside and uses the bathroom, and that's that," Wonnum explained. "But maybe like a week later, I go in my guest bedroom, and it's like five different piles of poop all over the room. And I'm like, 'Bro. First of all, how'd you get in here? And second of all, you go outside and use the bathroom. How you gonna come back in the house and use the bathroom?'
"I definitely got him for that," he added. "But other than that, he's been pretty good."
Wonnum compared Simba's personality to Vikings teammate Kris Boyd, saying they're both full of energy and just love to be around people.
Simba has an appetite like an NFL player, too.
Wonnum said he'll "eat anything," though it's not exactly a free-for-all as Simba would have it. From Caribou Coffee Pup Cups, to chicken, to his favorite treat – peanut butter – Simba is a big fan of any snacks he can get his paws on.
He devours bones meant to last a few days and rips chew toys to shreds, but Simba doesn't have a hostile bone in his body.
Anyone who meets the pup will immediately be welcomed by an affectionate tail wag and kisses, and it's easy to see he's all about the cuddles. Wonnum understands the stigma or hesitancy that sometimes accompanies the pit bull breed, but he emphasized that with the proper care and love, they're just like any other dog.
"It's all about how you raise them. I raised Simba around people and around a loving, caring family, and you can see how he is now – full of energy, never shows aggression at all," Wonnum said. "Anybody that's looking for a pit bull, they're loving dogs."
Wonnum did purchase Simba as a puppy but also is a major proponent of pet adoption.
He appreciates the partnership between Warrior Dog Rescue and the Purple Pups content series, and for last night's My Cause My Cleats game, he donned custom-designed kicks for another Twin Cities shelter, Secondhand Hounds.
Wonnum spent some time with Secondhand Hounds pups at a Community Tuesday event earlier this month and especially loved a young bulldog, Franny, who had been born with Spina Bifida.
"I decided to do this for my cleats because I love dogs. I love animals," Wonnum said. "This was an opportunity for me to spotlight those dogs that [might] have different problems or that are still [looking for homes].
"They deserve to be in loving, caring families. They deserve that opportunity," he added.
Wonnum of course hopes he and Simba are in the Twin Cities through the postseason, but when the 2021 campaign wraps up, the pair will head back to Georgia for some quality family time.
And of course, to reunite Simba and Diego.
"I'm actually excited to see how they play together when we get back home, because Simba's a lot bigger than the last time Diego saw him," Wonnum quipped.