PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES) 

A feline protest of a dog parade is all in good fun.

More than 250 dogs take part in the annual Spooky Paws Parade in Des Moines, IA. They wear Halloween costumes and compete for prizes from event organizer Jett & Monkey’s Dog Shoppe.

But what about the city’s kitties?

They like to walk (or be carried, as befitting their status). And dress up (OK, so perhaps “tolerate” better describes their attitude toward outfits). And get free stuff (catnip, preferably).

Enter the Kitty Protest.

Betsey Qualley, owner of Smitten Kitten cat boutique and grooming salon, also in Des Moines, has staged the demonstration since the event began in 2010.

“We walk at the very end,” she says, “dressed as cats and holding signs that say, ‘Where is our parade?’ and ‘Cats rule dogs drool.’”

THE IDEAPromote a Cat Biz at a Dog Event

Qualley and Jett & Monkey’s co-owner Josh Garrett are actually good friends. He suggested the protest as a way to promote her business and to include cats in a type of event traditionally dominated by dogs.

“The first year, it was my daughter and me with a couple of friends,” she recalls. “Now we get about 20 people to walk with us.”

THE EXECUTIONMake It Fun & Easy

Qualley begins advertising the parade with protest, which winds through the city’s East Village neighborhood, several weeks out. She posts flyers in her store and on social media, and takes them to area shelters. Employees encourage customers to participate, letting them know that Smitten Kitten T-shirts, signs and cats ears are all provided.

“We make it easy to join us,” Qualley says. “We tell people, ‘Just come! We’ve got ears for you.’”

On parade day, the kitty contingent carries a branded banner. At least one store cat comes along in harness and leash — carried, of course — with others riding in strollers or carriers.

“Everyone wants to meet them,” she says. “It’s pretty comical.”

Supplies get reused for as long as they last, with the only expense most years being the candy thrown out along the route.

THE RESULTSBrand Boost

Qualley sees the protest as purely a promotional event, one that costs her very little but has significant results in terms of name recognition.

“How do I know it’s effective? By all of the random people who share photos they took of us, on Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “We get noticed by people who didn’t know us before.”

Do It Yourself: Stage A ‘Protest’ 

  • Pick a popular dog-centric event and ask the organizer if you can “protest.” Or vice versa. A dog protest at a cat show!
  • Recruit customers to take part. They’ll feel even more like a member of your business family.
  • Promote in-store and via social media through tongue-in-cheek posters and posts. Alert the media!
  • Throw branded candy out along the parade route.
  • Go live from the protest via Facebook or Instagram, then share the replay often. It just may go viral!

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of PETS+.