It seemed like a good idea at the time, Evy and Ted Inoue advertising their new business by customizing their $25,000 Ford van to resemble their beloved dog.
Kudos was a basset hound-cocker spaniel mix, whose personality was so bright he inspired a business plan: a start-up that would let people share online thanks to everyone from good Samaritans to great contractors.
The New Hope couple named their business after the pooch, OurKudos.com.
"That was supposed to be our promotional vehicle," Evy says in her kitchen, looking out the window at her creation - brown and white, with soft eyes, arched eyebrows, furry black ears that droop over the rear doors, a red tongue that sticks out of the grill and a white, adjustable tail. It gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway.
"By giving it the look and personality of our dog, we hoped it would spread happiness wherever it went," said Evy, a children's book author who writes under the pen name Kimiko Kajikawa. "We'd go to events and honor all sorts of heroes. We'd be giving out kudos."
She and her husband did give out one award, in October 2011 to Dave Decker, who raises money in New Hope for rescue dogs.
But building a site that would allow the grateful to buy gifts like candy and flowers proved more time-consuming than Ted projected, and he's pretty good with computers.
While a freshman at Cornell he had invented a process that enlarged the sort of slides that his father, a Penn cell biologist, strained to examine in the lab. Since selling his company to Molecular Devices Corp., Ted has worked as an energy auditor.
The collapse of the economy didn't help OurKudos. Neither did all the Internet noise that made getting attention difficult - even though the Ford transit van turned its share of heads.
But what really caused the Inoues to lose faith in their plan was Kudos, himself. In March 2011 he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. His kidneys started failing. He died a year ago Monday at age 3. The Inoues were crushed.
"We were really grieving the death of our dog, the death of our business," Evy says. The idea of selling the van hurt.
They could put it on eBay, where they envisioned someone stripping every bit of Kudos. For months it sat in the garage. Then Evy started looking for a charity that might want the van she named Waggin Wheels.
Running on fumes
Joyce Darrell and Mike Dickerson foster and rescue disabled dogs from their home in Prince Frederick, Md. They have 25 right now - blind dogs, deaf dogs, tripods, and dogs with spinal injuries that require special wheelchairs to get around.
For the last 10 years they've devoted themselves to these creatures. They run a tiny nonprofit called Petswithdisabilities.org. To get to the vets, they have to squeeze their dogs and their chairs into a 1996 Saturn wagon.
Evy's call came a month ago and out of the blue. Says Joyce, "I thought she was pulling my chain."
For an hour they talked about the Inoues' start-up and Kudos, the brother and sister dogs they've added to their household since. Evy invited the Maryland couple to see the van.
Mike made the trip with Annie, a wheelchair dog, and Megan, who is blind. He pulled up to the Inoues' on Solesbury Mountain Road, high above the Delaware, and was overwhelmed.
"We're being touched by angels," Joyce said. "They could have sold that van and got their money back. They deserve kudos, too."