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Posted by on May 22, 2022 in Las Vegas, Personal | 2 comments

Saying Goodbye to Ginger

 

 

The joyful story of adopting a dog, and then the pain of giving it back.

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Today’s article begins starts with a question. Did I do the right thing?

I don’t know. One thing’s for certain. We’re heartbroken.

A few days ago, I announced that we’d adopted a dog. She was a purebred German Shepard. We named her “Ginger,” a name that came to us immediately based on her gorgeous tricolor markings dominated by the color of ginger root. From the first moment we saw and met Ginger, we fell absolutely in love with her. Indeed, dogs have a way of overcoming our resistance and can melt our hearts.

Becoming new pet parents produced an added benefit. Now, we now had a new watchdog. Burglars were put on alert. Ginger was an aggressive animal. A beast. She was dangerous — that is, she might lick you to death. A real love bug.

How we acquired Ginger is a story that must be told. So, I’ll begin with the unexpected phone call I received early last week.

Our neighbors know how much Marieta and I love animals. We’ve fostered dogs in the past in our home, but we never made the full commitment to adopt one. Our attitude has been — “if it’s meant to happen, the dog will somehow find us.” I had to come up with something of a defense mechanism because a few years ago I did volunteer work for one of the local shelters. If I didn’t follow some strict guidelines, then I’d want to adopt every stray dog desperately awaiting a loving new home in the shelter. So, we’ve been open to getting a dog, but weren’t exactly proactive about it.

Well, turns out Ginger “found us.”

A few days ago, the neighbors took their own dog to Desert Breeze Park. They ran into a lady at the park, with a German Shepard on a leash. The lady was distraught. More like in a state of panic. She was about to turn her dog loose and let it run away. In other words, she was going to dump the animal (animal dumping is a huge problem that’s all too common in Las Vegas).

Our neighbors didn’t know what to do. They knew Marieta and I fostered dogs in the past and we also have a decent-sized enclosed yard. They called and informed us about the dog was about to be turned loose, which would then be in serious danger. So, I jumped into the car and drove to the park to see if I could help.

From the moment I confronted her, it was clear the woman had mental issues. I don’t what exactly. But she made it clear she wanted to get rid of the dog. I told her I’d take the dog and give it a good home, but also I didn’t want her to know where I live nor to have any further contact. The last thing I wanted was someone unbalanced coming to my home. This was going to be a clean break. It was totally her decision.

She agreed to let me take the dog, which strangely seemed to understand the situation, and jumped into the back seat. I promised the woman her dog would have a good home. Then, I drove away. As I was driving I wasn’t sure about keeping her or fostering her, and once back at home I sure had some explaining to do to Marieta. “Oh, hi honey, we now own a German Shepard.”

Turned out, the woman immediately began having second thoughts. She traded phone numbers with my neighbors who were still around and trying to comfort the woman, who started crying. By this time, we were long gone and the dog was home with me. The dog was introduced to Marieta, drank two bowls of water, and ate two cans of cat food (that’s all we had in the house at the time). I also got lucky in another way. Instantly, Marieta adored her. The name “Ginger” came to us, and stuck.

The German Shepard was less than a year old. She was strong and aggressive, and mostly playful. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

Unfortunately, Ginger had been neglected. She wasn’t trained, at all. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m very good at training animals, even within a short time frame. Training is based on a few simple fundamentals: Clarity, consistency, and repetition. Dogs want to be trained. They are, by nature, pack animals. They follow the herd, and obey the lead dog. Ginger was desperate to be trained. But I really think she just loved the attention she was getting.

Within minutes, I was working with Ginger and she was learning. She responded like a star student. She absorbed instructions like a sponge. I was tearing up, she was so smart. I fell in love with her instantly. Like I said…..dogs. You know the rest.

One problem with Ginger was her playfulness. She didn’t know her size or strength. When she got excited, she jumped on people. I’ve seen this with other dogs, who are expressing happiness and wanting attention.

The mistake many dog owners make with dogs that jump up on you is mistakenly reinforcing the bad behavior. Most people instinctively reach for the dog, grab its head, and pet it. So, the dog associates jumping onto people, even strangers, with a reward. It then repeats the bad behavior.

The proper way to break a dog from jumping is to turn your back away from the dog and ignore it. Totally shun the animal. This way, the dog begins to associate its behavior with something negative. It’s a causal effect, and most dogs learn very quickly that jumping up on people brings a response they don’t like. So, the dog begins doing it less and (hopefully) ceases that bad behavior over time. Ginger’s jumping on people was very annoying, but it was a breakable bad habit.

That’s one of the tricks, well not tricks, but training habits I taught Ginger in the first two days. I also walked her four times daily, and began instructing her on how to behave on a leash. By the third or fourth trip, she walked in unison. She stopped pulling. She enjoyed her walks more under control.

Ginger also learned her name — almost instantly. Another trick when teaching the animal is to call out its name with anything associated with pleasure. For instance, before feeding, call out “Giiiiiingeeeeeeer……Giiiiiingeeeeeeer……Giiiiiingeeeeeeer.” Remember — clarity, consistency, and repetition.

Within a few days, Ginger was a different animal. A family pet. A devoted dog. Oh, and she still could lick you to death.

Then, on Saturday, we received another phone call.  This is where it becomes difficult for me to write.

The neighbors informed us they’d been in touch with the woman at the park. They’d talked and texted by phone. The woman became increasingly desperate and wanted her dog back. The neighbors told her that they would talk to us about it, and get back to her.

This went back and forth for several hours. I didn’t know what to do. Seriously, what kind of person threatens to turn their dog loose in a park and abandon it? Then again, maybe she was just having a really bad day. Who was I to make the woman pay for a mistake? Maybe she had a shitty boyfriend. Maybe she reacted badly to medication. Maybe it was just a terrible but temporary lapse in judgment. Should I deny this woman her dog because she did something really stupid and I began getting attached to it?

Call me conflicted.

A few things tipped me in favor of empathy for the woman. First, the dog wasn’t malnourished nor in bad health. In fact, Ginger looked well cared for. Second, the woman wasn’t impoverished. This likely wasn’t a financial decision. She drove a new white mustang. She was well dressed. She looked “normal.”

I told my neighbors to convey to the woman there would be strict conditions to return the animal to her. She had to be at the park exactly at the time we agreed upon. She had to be 100 percent certain she wanted to keep and take care of the dog. And, my own unspoken condition was that she had to look like she was self-reliant and not suffering from some mental deficiency. Any suspicions that she would ever do such a thing again would immediately compel me to keep the dog and never want to see the woman again.

She agreed.

Promptly at 4 pm, we met at the park at the exact same spot I first saw Ginger. As I drove to the park, a lump came into my throat. I teared up a little. I was undecided about what I was doing, but compelled by doing the thing that is difficult, but also hopefully right.

The neighbors came along. So, there were three of us waiting. At 4 pm, the white mustang pulled up. The woman didn’t say a word. She approached me, then took the leash that was attached to Ginger’s collar. She then led the dog to her car. “Ginger” was no longer Ginger anymore. Not my Ginger. She jumped into the car, a ritual she knew from the past. The woman walked to her car, got in, started the engine, and drove away. Not a story. Not an explanation. Not a thank you. Nothing. I was stunned.

The neighbors and I looked at each other, speechless. What was that? What just happened? The white Mustang was gone. The woman was gone. Ginger was gone.

The short drive home took only 5 minutes but seemed like hours. I looked over at the space in the car where Ginger proudly sat, now empty. When got home, I saw the backyard where Ginger had played, now quiet. I saw the cans of dog food we’d bought. I saw a dog bone we’d given her as a toy. It was an emptiness and a void and an emotional abyss worsened by the mystery of knowing too little, and of doubting myself.

Did I do the right thing?

I don’t know. But I sure do wish Ginger was around to jump up on me one more time.

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Posted by on May 17, 2022 in Blog, General Poker, Personal, World Series of Poker | 1 comment

25 Years Ago: Stu Ungar’s Final Triumph

 

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Stu Ungar’s third World Series of Poker championship.

Ungar was one of only two players in history to win poker’s world championship three times, a feat unlikely to ever happen again. Ungar’s 1997 victory against all odds was the crowning achievement of a legendary career as a professional card player and the final moment of glory in a deeply-troubled life that ended just 17 months later at age 45.

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I took several photographs during that series, even though I’m a terrible photographer and we didn’t have smartphones back then (I later wrote a book on Ungar).

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Most of my extensive collection of poker photos–and old programs–and WSOP stuff–and assorted poker memorabilia packed into boxes and file cabinets was trashed into a dumpster a few years ago, but the following photos surfaced inside a lost folder while I held a garage sale last weekend.

Most of these photos have never been published before:

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2022 in Blog, Personal | 1 comment

My Words of Encouragement

 

 

I’ve been in the hospital (as a visitor) these past few days tending to a family matter.

Here on our floor, there’s a big whiteboard where patients can write and share encouraging things, which is nice.

See if you can guess what I wrote.

__________

 

UPDATE: I couldn’t help myself.  New day, a new comment:

 

 

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