Feral and community cat problem
Fara Megargee and Alvina Pitches came together to discuss solutions for the way feral and community cats are being treated.
Malcolm Denemark, FLORIDA TODAY
Editor’s note: This story has been updated. An earlier version misspelled Amerosa’s name.
Adorable. Icky. Sassy. Stinky. Scrungly.
All words Tampa-based rescuer Dominque Amerosa has seen commented about her foster kitten, Wisp, over the last three weeks. She joked about all the different ways fans describe Wisp, with one of her favorites being the comparison to “Frank Gallagher” on the hit comedic drama “Shameless.”
“Everyone was just commented ‘Another scrungly cat’ and I was like ‘What does that mean?’ They explained it meant a cat that just looks icky, that looks like your childhood stuffed animal that’s very loved … and they’re right,” Rags to Richest Animal Rescue founder Amerosa told Florida Today. “She does look like she’s been through the washing machine one too many times. It’s so funny.”
In less than one month, the Persian kitten has amassed a loyal fanbase over 680,000 thousand TikTok followers, ready to swarm each clip Amerosa posts with love and support for the tiny cat.
From watching her white fur become yellowed from her messy lifestyle to receiving updates about her latest health scares, viewers can’t get enough of Wisp. What started off as a way to promote her foster animal has turned into a full “stan account” for Wisp that’s earned over 39 million views.
Curious after the white fluff ball that’s been on your “For You” page over and over again? Here’s an inside look into the newest internet celebrity and the rescue that give its all to care for her.
What to know about TNR: What’s a cat colony? What does TNR mean? What to do about feral cats roaming your SWFL neighborhood
Who is Wisp?
So, who exactly is this internet superstar in the making? Wisp is a 9 week old (making her a Virgo) Persian cat located in Tampa. She loves to eat, scream and waddle around, as shown in her many viral clips.
While she might be small, Amerosa jokes that her sassy personality is larger than life.
“She’s a talker, for sure. If you don’t giving her what she needs, she’s going to scream at you nonstop,” Amerosa said. “She’s very unique personality. She has a huge personality.”
What is Rags to Riches rescue?
Rags to Riches Animal Rescue is Amerosa’s rescue based out of Tampa, yet it isn’t limited to just Tampa. Started officially in 2022, she said she has traveled all across the state to help animals in need.
Run mostly as one-woman show, Amerosa said it all goes back to when she was a kid hanging around her dad’s shop in Drew Park. With the abundance of strays in the neighborhood, her mother would send her to grab kittens and together they’d help out the animals.
“We would just fix all these animals and then adopt them out for free. We didn’t work with the rescue group, we didn’t know about rescue groups,” Amerosa said, noting how they grew her love of helping animals. “That continued, as my dad had the shop for 13 years, I started at eight.”
Since she was 18, she has been single-handedly funding her own rescues, the artist making her craft solely to fund her then-hobby. Buying food and handling medical bills to paying for each cat she trapped to be neutered, Amerosa spent thousands of her own money to care for cat colonies and strays in the state.
After three years, she decided it was time for her to establish her own rescue. In June 2022, she filed to start “Rags to Rags Animal Rescue Inc.”
“I was like, ‘You know what, I’m running a rescue, I’m running the rescue by myself,'” Amerosa said, recounting her mindset when she started. “And I’m not getting adoption fees. I’m not getting donations. I’m just doing it because I want the animals that I’ve caught or fixed or whatever to have good lives.”
How did Wisp end up at Rags to Riches?
She’s an “oopsie-daisy” baby, so to speak.
Amerosa said it all started prior to Wisp’s birth, when suddenly several Persian cats started being dumped by an unknown culprit all throughout her neighborhood. It became a heartbreaking cycle — get a call about a cat, go out to grab it, come back home and suddenly she’d get a call about another.
Wisp’s mother was the one of the Persians she rescued, coming to her from someone who said it was a boy named “Gerald.” Since only some the cats were fixed and Gerald was shy, Amerosa didn’t want to mess with her further and noted the gender.
A few weeks later while caring for the cats, she came home to single white kitten.
“I go in there and (Wisp)’s just little princess on the pillow. I was like, ‘Wow, who popped that out because the rest are definitely boys because they got neutered,” Amerosa said. “So, Gerald turned into Gertrude.”
When did Wisp first go viral?
Amerosa first decided to make a dedicated account to promote her rescue and feature the animals she was fostering. She had previously gone viral on her personal account with her previous foster cat, Smush.
She decided to film a quick clip of Wisp on Aug. 21, capturing her cries of attention for the internet to see.
After posting, Amerosa went to bed with just a few likes and views on her video. She said she woke up the next day with over thousands likes and a stream of new followers awaiting the new update on Wisp.
What health problems has Wisp experienced?
The first issue started when Wisp couldn’t latch onto her mother, so Amerosa had to start bottle feeding her. It’s also noted that Gertrude started to stop taking care of Wisp, resulting in her iconic messier than usual coat.
Around two weeks old, she developed a respiratory infection called calicivirus virus, which all the rescued Persians came with. Eventually, it went away and they were out of the woods.
Until the infamous “pooping issue” began. Amerosa said doctors determined that Wisp had a congenital condition and her colon was not properly attached. It didn’t become a huge concern until the beginning of September, when she could hardly defecate at all.
“She’s a happy kitten. She may have some issues, but she enjoys life,” Amerosa said “She just has tummy problems, and she just can’t poop sometimes.”
On Sept. 12, she got a ballooning procedure done in Sarasota to help her with her colon opening. Amerosa said with Wisp being so young, doctors believe things will correct and this is the only surgery she’ll need.
Is Rags to Richest caring for other animals besides Wisp?
While TikTok users mainly get to see the adventures of Wisp, Rags to Riches other social media accounts give viewers a peak at the other animals Amerosa cares for.
She currently is caring for five foster dogs and multiple other cats she is fostering behind the scenes, such as the other Persians (including Wisp’s mom).
What has been the reaction to Wisp and her icky adventures?
The internet loves Wisp, regardless of if she can poop or not.
For weeks, TikTok users who stumbled on the Rags to Riches account have fallen down the rabbit hole of Wisp’s lore. This has lead to many going the extra mile to express their love for her, adding that they’d be heartbroken if anything bad happened to her as she was experiencing some some medical issues.
On top of expressing their love, others have put Wisp into popular meme formats, adding sound effects when she talks or other popular audios from the app. Amerosa said she’s gotten a huge kick out of the silly fan arts and videos of Wisp.
Wisp has been added to growing list of stars and celebrities who have “fan cams.” Popularized by K-pop artists, fan cams are video montages consisting of clips of a person or fictional character set to a song.
How has this overwhelming support impacted Amerosa and the rescue?
I love it, Amerosa said about the amount of love Wisp and rescue gets. For a physically and emotionally demanding career, seeing the support come means the world.
“If I’m having a bad day or someone was rude to me or someone verbally abused me, then I just go to the comments and everybody’s just talking about how excited they are for Wisp to poop or just funny stories or calling her different names that I think are hilarious.”
With each new follower, new like and new comment that comes in, Amerosa says she’s able to spread more awareness about fostering animals and how to help rescues in their own community.
What have been the best parts about Wisp going viral?
She also adds that it has been rewarding to give reviewers a look into how much work goes into helping kittens, especially those with medical issues.
“Some have commented ‘I adopted special needs cat, I adopted a cat with a disability,’ and that makes me happy because most the time they stay in our house because they never get adopted. I think this is hopefully going change people’s perspective and get them more involved in animal rescue.”
“This is our way to educate the public on congenital babies, on their disabilities and that they don’t have to be euthanized because you don’t see their journey. It was so hard to find a vet to even work on her. And that’s a common thing, people give up for a normal person who doesn’t have resources. Luckily, I have resources and didn’t stop until somebody helped me find about my cat.”
Will one lucky viewer be able to adopt Wisp?
Not right now, Amerosa admits.
One of the most popular questions in Wisp’s comment sections and in the rescue’s DMs are those wanting the internet celebrity cat as their own. However, that’s not in the cards for right now.
“We’ve had, I couldn’t even tell, you probably more than 400 applications come in for Wisp all over the world and it’s constant all the time but I don’t think she’s leaving at this moment because of her issues,” Amerosa said. “We still don’t truthfully know what’s going on.”
The rescue is still monitoring her progress following her surgery and seeing if she’ll grow out of some of issues. So until something looks different, it looks more likely that Wisp would continue her journey with somebody connected to the Rags to Riches family.
What does the future look like for Rags to Riches rescue?
Fans of Wisp and Amerosa’s rescue can look forward to exciting new ways to support the animals, such collaborations with artists to make Wisp-inspired apparel to possibly creating her dream of a cat café. She even shared that a children’s book in currently in the works, with some of Wisp’s fanart featured throughout.
With each new campaign, Rags to Riches can not only help Wisp or Amerosa’s other fosters but she can spread the wealth to others. One scrungly kitten made is easier to Amerosa to help others.
“Our funding has been a lot better than before, like we’d have like $2,000 and it would be really hard to do a lot of stuff. But now we can help other people.” Amerosa said. “I had a lady reach out and she wanted to keep her cat but couldn’t afford its tumor surgery, so we luckily got to pay for that using funds from just the shirts. Our shirts made that possible where she could keep her cat.”