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Bringing Up Leo

For better or for worse
By Kate VandenBerghe, June 2010, Updated November 2021

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 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.


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.