2014 Symposium: Should pet owners be able to deduct a portion of their pet care?

Myrtle Beach: As the proud parent of a rescued dog of course my answer is yes! However, despite my obvious bias I do believe there is honest merit to this question. In many states overpopulation in shelters is a very big problem. This is another topic all together. But adoption is the main way to control this overpopulation.

To be fair we MUST consider every aspect of this. Just as with children if we allow tax deductions people may proceed to adopt 20 animals for the sheer fact that they can deduct them and may not actually be able to care for them. So first off, there has to be a limit. Maybe it’s a number based on household size: 1 pet per bedroom; 3 bedroom house 3 pets; 5 bedroom house 5 pets.

There should also be limitations on obtaining these animals. I think they should be required to come from a non-profit shelter or rescue center. Animals that are “purchased” from breeders or pet stores are not deductible. To be fair maybe put a contingency on the purchased animals; maybe not deductible for the first year, or not deductible until they are fixed. All animals from places such as the Humane Society MUST be fixed prior to adoption as a policy. This alone could solve a large problem if people would fix their pets. If the animals are not from a non-profit the owner must then provide proof that the animal has been fixed.

Along with the fixing of these animals people should be required to maintain the animals’ health. Yearly shots should be a requirement. Most responsible owners do this anyway, so why not reward them! This being said I do believe that the necessary medications to maintain your pets’ health should be deductible in part as well, along with medical care including surgery.

The amount of deduction is going to be the biggest question. How much of an allowance? If an owner takes all the proper steps in adoption, fixing, shots, and regular care I see no reason why they couldn’t deduct a portion slightly less than a child. Obviously the dollar amount to care for an animal is far less. But if someone is willing to show the necessary documentation in receipts I see no reason why an animal should not be tax deductible. This could help to solve the overpopulation problem we have in many areas of this country.

Raleigh: Americans love their pets and pet care has become a billion dollar industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, American pet ownership almost tripled in years since the 1970s when about 67 million household had a pet to 164 million owned pets in 2012, which means that about 62 percent of American homes have at least one pet. Also, according to American Pet Products Association, people spent around 50 billion dollars on their pets in 2012. Most of the pets, as expected, are dogs, cats, and birds, but people also have other types of pets such as reptiles, fish, gerbils, ferrets, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, horses, etc. On average, according to American Veterinary Medical Association, people spend (for veterinary care only) about $378 per year for a dog, $191 per year for a cat, $33 per year for a bird, and $373 per year for a horse. If one is to add the cost of other things a pet needs it is obvious that owning a pet (or several!) is not a cheap undertaking.

It is certainly a positive thing that majority of Americans do care about their pets and are willing to shoulder the costs associated with them such as veterinary care, food, toys, and other necessities. At the same time, many pets end up abandoned because their owners could not afford to take care of them. Some of them go to rescue shelters where if they are not adopted in time they get euthanized; others are simply abandoned and left to die. It is a very tragic situation because animals are truly dependent on their owners nowadays and have no choice but live or die unless there is someone to take of them.

Everybody has seen commercials with terribly abused and neglected animals. In order to stop the cruelty, abandonment, and abuse of the animals, the government should help. If pet owners could declare their expenses connected to pets as tax deductible (or at least a portion of it such as veterinary care), then the cost of pet care could be not so expensive and people would be able to afford their existing pets and even adopt other pets. At the end, it would be a win-win situation because animals will be cared for and people will get the most delightful companions who readily provide unconditional love, devotion, and pure joy.

Asheville: Pet ownership is a joy. There is no substitute for the unconditional love of a dog or cat, for the quiet companionship of a tank full of fish, or for the rambunctious fun of a ferret. It is a pleasure that everyone ought to enjoy. It is not, however, something which ought to involve the tax code.

Consider the great child die-off of 1986. Prior to 1986, parents were on an honor system when it came to claiming children as dependents on their taxes. After the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, parents were required to list social security numbers for all dependents over 5 years of age. The following year, seven million children who had been claimed the year before disappeared from tax returns across the country. It’s possible that 1986 saw the greatest calamity ever to befall the nation, though it seems more likely that the honor code was subject to widespread abuse.

It seems likely that the same would be true under the proposed policy. The very wealthy would claim entire fictitious zoos in order to minimize their tax burdens. Even if there were some limit on total deductions, imaginary menageries would be created just to the threshold of that limit. The system is ripe for abuse.

Moreover, the line between pet and investment property seems awfully narrow. A commercial breeding operation for horses might suddenly have to pay no taxes. Instead of making end-of-year charitable contributions, livestock speculators might buy herds of cattle to reduce their tax burden, then resell them the next year. It is not difficult to think of ways in which creative accountants might use such a program to the benefit of their clients, and the detriment of federal revenue.

Prescott Valley: Pet owners, particularly those with service assistance animals should be able to deduct certain aspects of pet care, as should owners of non-assistance animals. There are at present instances in which expenses concerning cats, dogs, or other animals can be deducted and those deductions include the following:

1. If a person is changing jobs under certain stipulations, he or she can deduct moving expenses that include the cost of moving a dog, cat or other pet from the previous residence to the new residence. The pet or pets are considered as personal effects.
2. Another instance in which an animal can be deducted is in the use of a company guard dog, particularly a frightening breed that is officially on guard over inventory. The dog itself cannot be deducted but it can be depreciated over its lifespan.
3. Adoption fees or donations to a dog rescue organization cannot be deducted unless additional donations are made beyond any standard fees.
4. Writing off pet food is considered deductible if the food is used to feed animals that keep other animals and intruders away from an area that requires safe keeping. As an example, a junkyard owner was able to write off cat food that he used to attract wild cats. The cats, in turn, eliminated snakes, rats and other animals, which made the junkyard safer for customers.
5. Seeing-eye dogs and other service animals provide deductions for visually and hearing disabled persons, as well as other persons with physical disabilities. Medical expense deductions encompass the costs of procuring a guide dog or other service animal along with the training and necessary maintenance of keeping the service animal. Other deduction costs include pet food, grooming and veterinary care that are required to keep the service animal in good condition and maintain its ability to provide help to its owner.
6. Those in the canine profession of show dog presenters, dog show trial judges and dog agility trainers are able to take deductions if they are related to a business, are reasonable deductions and are documented.
7. The service of fostering a pet has currently been made tax deductible. The expenses have to be related to services through a qualified, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and any documentation of pet support expenses must be provided with written approval of expenses through the organization that are over $250.

The deductions available for everyday pet owners are fairly limited, and the greatest portion of deductions are restricted to owners of assistance animals, which is only fair as these animals are basically performing the duties of an employed caregiver, whether the employer-owner is blind, deaf or physically impaired in some way.

Cartwright: Absolutely! If people can get deductions for having kids, why can’t I get deductions for my cats? My cats are my kids. In fact, my cats are better than most people’s kids. They get great care from me, and they don’t use any public services so to speak. They don’t go to school. They don’t use the roads. Where we have a problem is that people can’t be allowed to hoard animals in order to get more deductions and we’re not sure how well the animals are being treated. In order to get deductions, I think you need to show that your pet is up to date on all their shots or vaccinations or that your pet gets their annual checkup with the vet. Just as the government wants children to be well-cared for, they should also want pets to be well-cared for and treated humanely.

I’m going to digress here a bit and get on my soapbox. I think most people know that I’m a huge animal lover. I would love for our nation to have more concern for animal rights. There are millions of abandoned and abused animals in this country. Shelters euthanize animals by the scores simply because they can’t find them a home, yet we give real derelicts benefits for having more children. Then we spend billions of taxpayer dollars helping people care for children they shouldn’t have had in the first place. Shelter pets are like children. They can’t care for themselves. They can’t get jobs and support themselves. They need our help.

I want every shelter pet to find a forever home and I want every animal to be treated with respect, love, and dignity. So perhaps we frame this debate as part of the larger animal rights discussion. There’s plenty of incentive for people to adopt a shelter pet. These creatures can bring so much joy to your life, but it comes with a tremendous responsibility. There are a lot of people who don’t adopt a shelter pet because they can’t afford it or can’t afford to keep them. Let’s give people an incentive for rescuing a shelter pet. If it comes in the form of tax breaks, so be it. Let’s help people save these animals but make sure the animals get adopted into good homes. Let pet guardians deduct the expenses of caring for their pets as long as their vet signs off that they have examined the animal and that it is being well cared for.

I’m very passionate about animals. I’m sorry if I’ve digressed here. This is a very important topic that we need to have a better conversation about in this country. We animal lovers who are passionate about caring for abandoned animals and shelter pets often get labeled as kooks or extremists. If that’s what people think of me, then so be it. I’m going to keep fighting to end euthanizing animals in shelters and help every shelter pet find a forever home.

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