Kate VandenBerghe

Kate VandenBerghe is a recent graduate of the California College of Arts MFA program in San Francisco. She runs Paper Animal Design, her own freelance design company, and lives in Oakland with her two rescue pups, Skipper and Leo.

News: Guest Posts
The Name Game
The unpredictable art of pet naming

My first dog was named Cricket. A number of explanations were offered as to why she had that name, though none of them seemed very good. My mother told me, “As a puppy, her bark sounded like a cricket!” Well, as an adult she sounded like a woman wailing whenever she barked. My dad told me, “We named her that because she’s good luck, like a cricket!” Not great luck, considering this dog had kidney stones by age two. I came to accept that there might not be a rhyme or reason for every dog’s name, which was all right with me as long as it suited the dog.

  When I was old enough to consider getting my own dogs, I was determined to give them fantastic names. These names would have purpose and dignity, and make other people say, “Oh, my goodness, what a fantastic dog name!” I began to keep a small notebook on me at all times, with a few pages reserved in the back for jotting down dog names. I met a dog named Loretta once, I thought this was a phenomenal name. I also considered Greek gods as inspiration—Apollo, Hermes, Zeus. Or there were those classic names, which had gone out of fashion, but now were ironic and clever: Rocket, Fido, Sparky, Rex.   Eventually, I became convinced that all of my dogs from now until perpetuity would be named after U.S. Presidents. I’ve always thought the concept of dogs with human names was wildly funny, yet I wanted to be sure that my dogs had names that commanded the utmost respect. Presidents’ names seemed to be a good compromise, funny in a tongue in cheek sort of way, yet commanding that same gravitas I wanted. Skipper was absolutely going to be named Truman. Then I met him and he already knew his name, and he was just so happy when you said it. It seemed cruel to change it, he looked like he had already been through a lot in his life and a name change was added stress he didn’t deserve. So with dog number one, my naming scheme was already thwarted.   Leo, who was called “King Skip,” absolutely needed a name change. I couldn’t have two Skips, and calling him King just seemed like outright favoritism. I wanted to try to stick to my Presidential theme, so I considered calling him Ulysses, or perhaps Lincoln. Then I met “King Skip” and he was just so downright silly and rambunctious that giving him a name with such clout was impossible. So I did what most people probably do. I buckled and gave him a name on the spot that I thought suited him. Forget the list in my notebook.   I should tell you that in my family, when we’re not giving dogs completely inexplicable insect names, we have this odd habit of naming pets after relatives and relatives after pets. For example, my great grandmother was named Zoey. We had a dog named Zoey. My parents had an Irish Setter named Lucy. Then they named my sister Lucy. My name was supposed to be Samantha, but ended up being Kate. Soon after I was born, our nameless cat became Samantha. I named Leo after my father, who’s middle name is Leon (coincidentally after King Leopold II of Belgium, who owned several Schipperkes in his life).   Whenever a new name is introduced into the family, like Toby, the name is usually voted on by all of us and taken with the utmost seriousness. This is most likely because we subconsciously acknowledge that this new name is going to get recycled at some point, so we’d better really love it. Though none of my plans for naming have worked out to date, one thing is certain: Whomever I name in this life, whether dog or human, is inevitably going to be called Lucy, Leo or Toby.


News: Guest Posts
Extreme Pet-Proofing
Beyond bitter spray and baby gates

Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

  My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.   Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.   Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.


News: Guest Posts
Bringing Up Leo
For better or for worse

Adopting my first dog Skipper was, without a doubt, the best idea I have ever had. This is no small claim, considering that I am full of incredible ideas. Don’t believe me? Take this idea for instance: Prince and the surviving members of Queen get together and form a band called King. I know, right? Incredible idea. And that was just off the top of my head. Even with so many great ideas, adopting Skipper ranks as number one. However, the jury’s still out on my other dog Leo.

  Leo was by no means an impulse decision. Often while I worked at home, Skipper would lie on his dog bed nearby and let out long, loud sighs. Dog behaviorists, say what you will, but those sighs combined with his ultra-sad eyes was all I needed to see. Skipper longed to be part of a pack—not a pair.   Initially, I was unsettled by the feeling of wanting another dog. What if even after I got the dog I wanted another? Wasn’t this how people became animal hoarders? I cast these unreasonable fears aside, and Petfinder.com soon became my browser’s homepage. I grew obsessed with trolling the site for hours to find the perfect second dog. After almost six months of searching, Skipper’s rescue contacted me out of the blue. They had another Schipperke, and from the picture they sent me this dog looked like a dignified, if not royal, canine. It had to be a sign: This was my next dog.   Unfortunately, like many relationships that begin on the Internet, Leo was not who I had in mind.  It was like I was expecting Orlando Bloom and Gary Busey showed up. The dog was a hurricane: wild, uncontrolled and destructive. I’m still not sure why I agreed to adopt him, but I did. The first few weeks with Leo were rough, to say the least. On the car ride home, he became “fiercely romantic” with my Marc Jacobs sweater in the backseat. He and Skipper incessantly bickered. As much reading as I had done on welcoming a new dog into the family, I was unprepared. Every day, my boyfriend Jason would ask me, “So, when are you taking Leo back?”   It wasn’t until one night, when I left the dogs with Jason while I ran out to get groceries, that one of their fights transformed into a friendly wrestling match, ending with both dogs on the floor licking one another. They made their peace, and suddenly realized they couldn’t live without one another. Jason couldn’t explain it, and I didn’t need an explanation; I was just relieved.   Slowly, Leo began to calm down and became manageable. He began to find his place in the family, becoming more confident and less aggressive over time. In turn, Skipper stopped his sighing and moping—he was too busy enjoying Leo. Fights turned into brotherly roughhousing, knocking over freshly folded piles of laundry and dismantling sofa cushions. Leo’s wild, fun-loving nature brought out a liveliness and joie de vivre in Skipper that hadn’t been there before, and I grew to love Leo for his affectionate and quirky personality. Though Leo remains imperfect (where do all my socks keep going?), he has changed our lives for worse and for better—the calm in my home is gone, but it has been replaced with excitement, laughter and two very happy dogs.


News: Guest Posts
A Girl and Her Dogs
Karaoke vs. hula hoops

Even from a young age, I was convinced my life would not be absolutely complete until I had a dog to call my own. Now, at 24 with two dogs, I can tell you that in many ways it is complete and also complicated! My rite of passage into adulthood began when I adopted my first dog a few years ago, a small Schipperke mix who the rescue aptly named “Skipper.” To me, Skipper meant I never would have to come home to an empty house, I would always have someone to take to the park, and perhaps most importantly, I would always have someone to secretly watch Lifetime Original Movies with who wouldn’t judge me when I cried (or at least wouldn’t say anything). Nearly a year later, Skipper’s rescue contacted me to let me know they had another Schipperke, which is how Leo joined our family.

As a young adult, my social life has changed dramatically as a result of being a dog owner. I don’t have the same “freedom” I once had. I can’t just crash at a friend’s house in San Francisco. I can’t be gone all day and then head out for the night. I have to be home for my dogs. Initially, it was painfully apparent that I had sacrificed something to be a dog owner. If I were invited out to karaoke, before I could even consider which sequin dress to wear, I’d realize that I had been at work all day and probably should stay home. Some might say I’m punishing the world by not sharing my life-changing rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody with the public. So be it. Sometimes it’s more important to stay home and teach your dogs to jump through a hula-hoop. 

Today, I have adjusted fully to being a dog owner. A typical Saturday afternoon now consists of my boyfriend and I lounging on the sofa with the dogs after a long hike. We ponder important and life-altering questions like: If celebrities were dogs, which dogs would they be? Meryl Streep would be a Saluki. Tom Hanks would be a Cocker Spaniel. Fabio would be an Afghan Hound—no question. To our friends who don’t have dogs, these types of afternoons seem pointless and borderline insane, but to us it’s just part of being a dog lover.

Though there are drastic lifestyle changes that come with having dogs, there are major benefits too—we have a lot more dance parties at my house after we discovered Leo loves dancing! I don’t need to invest in one of those robot-vacuums, because the dogs will immediately inhale any scraps of food I drop (except those which are poisonous to dogs, of course!). And I didn’t know it was possible to have that much fun at a beach until I got the dogs. This is my life now; while it involves scooping poop and often staying in on Friday nights, the amount of joy and fulfillment these dogs have brought into my life has changed me more than any number of Toga parties could. It took some getting used to, but now I can’t remember life before the dogs and I don’t know if I care to.