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On December 17, 1989, the much anticipated Christmas special, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” aired and gave the world its first full-length episode of what would become the defining show of a generation. Contrary to being just another silly cartoon with easy punch lines, it was a rather depressing story which centered around a middle aged Average Joe struggling to provide his family with a merry Christmas after being notified that there would be no bonuses this year for power plant workers.

After several honest, but still failed attempts to make it work and keep it from his family, Homer ends up defeated, ashamed, and at a dog track on Christmas Eve with his 10 year old son. Putting all $13 to his name on a dog he believed to be a sure thing, Homer loses the race and prepares to face the rest of his family. A family who by now is waiting up with no presents under the tree and nothing but some flimsy decade old lights hanging from the gutters. While Homer and Bart are scouring the parking lot for winning tickets, they hear a sleazy voice yelling “beat it!” off in the distance. One of the losing dogs, Santa’s Little Helper, runs straight into Homer’s arms and the father and son cannot resist bringing him home resulting in what the rest of the family believes to be the best Christmas ever.

It seems that in recent decades, nothing beats the moment in a child’s life when mom and dad walk in the door with a living, breathing, cuddly surprise (even if he is a bit scrawny and not very fast). The part of the story that we don’t often see takes place several weeks later when the novelty has worn off, the animal has yet to be fully housebroken, and the children who’s lives had been so touched haven’t proven capable of pitching in with the responsibilities. Santa’s Little Helper was a greyhound that couldn’t win a race to save his life. In reality, every adopted animal is running a race and the stakes are exactly that. Can they win the family’s love before exhausting their patience for even the simplest tasks?

What tends to happen is that in the months after the holiday season, area shelters see an influx in intakes, not of dogs and cats found on the street or rescued from tragic circumstances, but of animals taken from breeders and pet stores and put into an overcrowded, underfunded system that had been struggling to begin with.

In addition to surrenders, the shelters are always picking up former pets who have wandered off, run away or got lost one way or another. When The Simpson family is gushing over their new dog, Bart adds as extra reassurance, “and if he runs away he’ll be easy to catch!” A comical knock at the dogs previous failed career. But the truth is that nobody ever expects their animal to get out and be unable to find their way home. As a result, they rarely see it necessary to have them registered and micro chipped. When a pet does eventually get out and get lost — a more common occurrence than people realize — the shelters have no way of knowing or tracking the family. Currently, all these problems are exacerbated by the hundreds of un-chipped animals lost during Hurricane Sandy who still reside in various shelters waiting for their families to come claim them.

While we are often relieved to be done with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and get back to our normal routines, we cannot forget that now is a crucial time to be adopting and fostering these displaced, unwanted, or surrendered animals. Check with the ASPCA, who have been running temporary Sandy shelters throughout the city, and please keep an eye on Animal Care and Control of NYC. You may just save a life.

-Josh Weinberg

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