Reindeer Games, Your Brand and the Pit Bull Challenge

When Ivy waddled into my life a few years ago, I didn’t expect to fall in love with her, make her a member of my family or give her a job as KOTAW’s Brand Ambassador.

I thought I’d just return her to Jose, our neighbor who’d adopted Ivy as a five-week-old puppy, tell him she was escaping to our house when he was at work, and that would be that.

But Ivy kept escaping, clumsily traveling the sidewalks past two other houses before she reached ours and wriggled so excitedly when she reached her destination that she struggled to navigate what should have been an easy walk through the rails of our fence.

As Ivy grew, she ran rather than waddled and, when she could no longer fit through the rails, she took to crying at the gate to be let in. And no matter what measures Jose took to keep Ivy at his house, she found a way to ours nearly every day.

She was determined — beyond determined — to see Woofie, our golden-retriever chow mix. It was love at first nose press when Jose first introduced Ivy to Woofie. He gently set her down in front of Woofie’s fluffy face, they went nose to nose and, from that day forward, Ivy found a way to keep escaping to find Woofie.

Whenever Ivy escaped from her yard to our house, Woofie greeted Ivy with her usual serenity. She’d watch quietly as Ivy bounded through our yard and house, rah-rah-rooing with joy at ear-splitting shrillness. Seconds before I’d voice my thoughts about the chaos and noise — Woofie would smile and emit a nearly inaudible “grrrr.”

Jedi Whisperer

Silence came instantly. And so it continued. Whenever I thought it was time for Ivy to stay or come, lie down or pipe down, Woofie would gently “grrr” from across the room, and Ivy heeded the instruction. Sometimes Woofie whispered longer messages into Ivy’s ear, and Ivy would either take a nap until I finished a deadline project or beg me to take her and Woofie for a walk, which would turn out to be exactly what I needed to gain new insight into a problem.

Ivy and Woofie, two KOTAW inspirations.

Ivy and Woofie, two KOTAW inspirations.

If I ever stopped to doubt whether this were possible, whether Woofie was mentoring Ivy or using Yoda-like powers to transform her, Woofie would look at me and smile serenely.

And I’d remember the day in 1999 when I saw Woofie for the first time on the street near our home in San Diego. She was a skinny, scared, injured and wild stray that neighbors demanded Animal Control capture and put to sleep. Even with a broken leg, she eluded her would-be captors for weeks and, when they finally gave up, she followed my daughters, our Great Dane and me home.

I didn’t plan to keep Woofie longer than it took for her leg to heal and for me to find her a new home. But I quickly realized that no one would adopt this biting, barking beast and I had no choice but to tame and train her. Frustrated, I emitted an involuntary growl. I think — I’m almost certain — I “grrred.”

Woofie proved a remarkably fast student, perhaps because she knew the payoff I hadn’t yet considered: a permanent, loving home for 14 years.

Six months after rescuing Woofie, we moved. We walked Woofie several times a day so most of our new neighbors saw her on a regular basis. They took one look at her fluffy face, noted that she was well-behaved and believed she was born that way. We moved five different times in Woofie’s life and took her on our travels to dozens of cities. Everyone, everywhere — including people who disliked dogs — concluded that Woofie was the most lovable animal they’d ever met.

Sweeter than all the candy canes at Christmas is Ivy, KOTAW Content Marketing's stereotype-busting Brand Ambassador.

Ivy Lou Who is sweeter than all the candy canes in Whoville!

Brand Loyalty and Disloyalty

No one who’s met Woofie believes the story of her mean past, and they resent me for telling it, for casting her, even for a moment, in an unfavorable light.

That’s the power of branding — and brand loyalty.

Ivy was born sweet-tempered and docile. She shies away from confrontations, furrows her brow with concern if one of us emits the slightest cough, and nurses neighborhood kittens when their mothers cannot produce enough milk to nourish them.

Unlike Woofie, she has no violent history to live down. But Ivy’s reputation precedes her birth. Before she took her first breath, she was branded as a vicious animal.

Ivy is a Pit Bull.

When my daughters and I walk her around the neighborhood, people cross the street or hurry in the opposite direction. Mail carriers reach over our fence to swat at her with sharp objects. A friend whose maltese-poodle we took care of for months at a time for seven years stopped allowing her dog to visit when she learned that Ivy had become part of our lives. We showed her a video of her dog and Ivy playing happily together and pictures of them kissing one another, and she still imposed the ban.

That’s the power of branding — and brand disloyalty.

The Pit and the Penultimate Branding Challenge

It’s why I tell clients to brand themselves before someone brands them first and why I fight hard for people and companies whose reputations have been unfairly damaged.

Good reputations are easily tarnished. Bad reputations are not easily repaired.

This is my New Year’s challenge to you: Imagine that you or your company were a Pit Bull. What would you do to redeem your brand? What will you do to build or bolster your brand in 2014 before a competitor, an unhappy client or a calamitous event tears it down?

Think it can’t happen? Neither, in her puppy innocence, did Ivy. But something drew her to Woofie, to us. She is now a permanent family member (Jose moved away and Ivy chose to live with my daughters and me.) And she now has the entire KOTAW team committed to rebranding her — and all Pit Bulls — as lovable.

One day, one story at a time.

Ivy, the Red Nose Pit Bull, deserves to play in reindeer games. Your brand deserves to glow.

It’s better to give than to receive, but I do want something from you: your comments! Please share your thoughts below. Wishing you and your loved ones a fabulous holiday season!


  1. I will be the first to admit that dogs scare me. But I will also be the first to admit that I want to adopt a dog because I know – deep in my heart – that they are extremely lovable and deserve a good home. And, yes, Pit Bulls are born with a tarnished reputation, which I believe is very sad. Why do you think this is though, Kat? Pardon my ignorance, but I don’t know the history of dogs :-(. I read somewhere that PBs were used in dog fights. True? :-)

    Your prose flows gently, warming my very core with your heartfelt words! Muaah But what is new about that?! #URock



    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hi Kit,

      Thank you so much for asking why Pit Bulls have a bad reputation. They didn’t always. In fact, they used to be known as “nanny dogs” in the UK and there are old black and white photographs of Pit Bulls “babysitting” children because people used to trust them to look after their babies (Ivy LOVES babies and children so I think that’s in her DNA!) Pits have only more recently been demonized by society due to the fact that they’re so strong and have so much muscle. Which means that cruel humans decided to force them into dog fights and give them a bad reputation. Which sickens me to no end. When Ivy has been around dogs who start to fight in play groups, she just backs away and looks shy and concerned. The idea of someone forcing a naturally shy, sweet and sensitive girl to fight for her life repulses and depresses me in my very core. The American Temperament Society has deemed Pit Bulls to be one of the least aggressive breeds (they are #2 on the list of least aggressive breeds, after labs… Golden Retrievers are #4). Yet people don’t pay attention to the facts. They see Ivy wagging her tail and looking friendly and run the other way because all they see is “pit” and leave me to comfort her because she doesn’t understand why people won’t let her say hi to them. She is so grateful to anyone and everyone who does let her say hi and has many neighborhood friends who are babies and children (who are innocent so don’t have any prejudice against her!) It makes me really happy that you want to adopt a dog even though you’re afraid of them. I know that one day you will rescue a dog and you will both make each other so very happy and give each other so much love! It warms my heart to think of that. Thank you so much for your always kind and thoughtful comments, Kit.



  2. Karen Hoyt says:

    I love this story and can relate on several levels. First of all, thank you for loving the underdog. It says a lot about your character to look past what is on the surface.

    Several years ago a veteran in a nearby rural area got a small plot of land and began building animal houses on them. I passed by and watched him working from his wheelchair. I was afraid it was going to be a veal farm, which would be hard for me to look at daily.

    Instead, each house became home to a rescued pit bull. He would take the animals and nurse them back to health, and then provide a safe community for them to live in. His labor of love was supported by many volunteers. I learned a lot about these animals from his act of service.

    In regards to how reputation effects a website, I quickly found out that some people regard Hepatitis C as a virus that effects drug users only. They have no idea about the veterans, medical workers, or others who have contracted the virus by other means. I have met some of the most wonderful people who have liver disease as a result of HCV. I don’t even care how they got it. We are fellow human beings who long to live life to our fullest potential.

    As you have found out with Ivy and Woofie, sometimes it is the underdog who gives you everything their heart can hold. We have a kindred spirit dear Katherine and I’m so glad we met!
    Happy New Year to you and your whole lovely family,

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Dear Karen,

      I can’t tell you how much it means to me for you to read and leave such a lovely comment on this particular blog. On the very day this blog was published, a neighbor of mine quoted to me someone saying to her, about Ivy “She’s a bad dog. She’s a Pit Bull.” And that just broke my heart. Someone who had seen Ivy but had never had the pleasure of meeting her lumped her and “bad dog” into the same sentence solely because she’s a pit, despite my neighbor repeatedly telling him how sweet Ivy is with her little dog and how they play together regularly. The prejudice runs deep and that is why it is my daily mission to show the world how loving pits are and how bad reputations can be changed, using Ivy as our Brand Ambassador!

      I can certainly understand your fear of seeing animal house after animal house being built on a plot of land, but am so happy it turned out to be for such a good reason! That makes me so happy to hear that the man building all the animal houses was specifically building them for pits so that he could give them a safe and loving place to live while he nursed them back to health. I’m so glad you got to learn about the sweet nature of pits because of this kind man who rescued pits.

      Thank you also for referencing your own experiences with regards to preconceived notions about Hepatitis C. I think what you’re doing with your website is truly wonderful, as you’re doing a public service by removing the stigma that may be associated with having Hepatitis C and creating such a safe haven of support for anyone who is going through either the feeling of being outcast or the emotional or physical pain of having the virus. What you say is so true: We are all fellow human beings and should be treated as such, not labeled for our diseases or how we may or may not have gotten them. I am so inspired by the good you do by sharing your story and experiences in order to help others. Just like Ivy, you are helping to disprove the fallacies and highlight the positives :)

      I’m so glad we met too, and thank you so much for your kind words about Ivy and Woofie. I’m so lucky to have found a kindred spirit in you and my family and I wish you a very Happy New Year as well, filled with lots more fun times with your granddaughters and The Cheetah Girls!



  3. […] Reindeer Games, Your Brand and the Pit Bull Challenge […]

  4. Jerrica says:

    First of all i have to say….I love my pitty! My family bred golden retrievers when I was growing up and i always thought they were the sweetest dogs ever. Then 3 yrs ago i got my pitty puppy! She was sooo tiny, and the most adorable thing i’d ever seen! I’ll admit i fell in love with her ears first (i’ll never understand why anyone would dock their ears) but as she grew and got to know us it became appearant to me that this was one of the sweetest (most cuddly) dogs I would ever own! She still snuggles with me! At a whopping 90 lbs she believes she is a lap dog! As a puppy we did everything we could to ensure no one would ever get accidentally bit (accidentaly because she would never harm anyone on purpose)! When we played we corrected her until she started to use her paws to catch our hand or the toy rather than her mouth, when she ate we would put our hands in the bowl and move the food around, occasionally stealing it from her mouth, all the while talking to her in a playfull voice so she thought of it as a game! The only time i’ve ever seen her show aggression towards anyone was when she thought they were hurting me! Even then her idea of aggression was to sit firmly between us and give a menacing growl! She didnt show teeth and she didnt even attempt to nip! I love this breed! We live on two acres of property and my biggest dream is to turn the back acre into a sanctuary with training capabilities! That however takes money and support so it may take me awhile but im determined to get there one day! It made me very happy to see this and know there are people out there who understand that stereotyping doesnt only apply to people but to dogs too! Bless you for your support to all pitty pups and especially for Ivy who obviously has learned so much from you!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I love your dream, Jerrica, and I wish you the greatest success in creating a sanctuary for pit bulls! And what a wonderful story about your own sweet pitty. All dogs need training and love. As you’ve demonstrated, when you get the training out of the way early, you can spend the rest of your time together on the love. Thank you so much for writing and for helping to spread the word about misunderstood pit bulls!!

  5. Jelena says:

    Hi Katherine, thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I was very touched by your words that are so true. I am a proud owner of an adopted Pit Bull. I know now that they are the best dogs that I have ever had a pleasure of meeting. My Pit Bull opened my eyes in so many ways and turned me into an avid advocate of their reputation and image. I too am faced every day with dirty looks, lifting kids, crossing the street to the other side, all kinds of really insulting stereotypical questions and opinions from people we meet. Bella, my pit, loves more then anything to enter a room full of people and greet each and every person there. But you know all this already, I wish all people did, so that this abuse and discrimination could stop once and for all. Thank you so much for doing your part.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hi, Jelena, and welcome to the KOTAW blog! This comment from you is such a wonderful gift to start the new year. Thank you for all you do to advocate for Pit Bulls on behalf of your sweet pittie Bella and their “type”. Ivy says thank you too and sends you lots of sweet and squishy pittie kisses.

      Ever since Ivy wiggled her way into my life, my daughters and I have been passionate Pit Bull advocates and determined to use our brand storytelling platform as a way to spread the Pit Bull love. It’s so heartwarming to get this comment from you on this blog because it was the very first “Pit Bulls and Personal Branding” blog — written three years ago, just after my daughters and I started KOTAW together and made Ivy our Brand Ambassador.

      Today, our Pit Bulls and Personal Branding passion project has its very own tab on our site and has become the focus of our life’s work.

      What I wish for Bella is so many roomfuls of people who will happily let her greet them and reciprocate her love. My daughters and I are over-the-top happy whenever anyone goes right up to Ivy and lets her wiggle at them and kiss them and talk to them in her classic pittie “RAH RAH ROO” language. Ivy is so beyond grateful to anyone who trusts her and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time — beautiful because of how blissfully happy Ivy becomes and heartbreaking because of how it’s not the norm.

      But Ivy is changing minds every day just by being the sweet and loving dog she is. She’s making the world a better, less prejudiced place just by being her; and that’s what inspires my daughters and me to advocate on her behalf.

      Thank you again for taking the time to leave such a kind and thoughtful comment. Please give Bella extra love from Ivy and me.

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