Did You Know Certain Pet Foster Care Expenses Are Tax Deductible?

Tax Deduction

Story at-a-glance -

  • A woman who incurred thousands of dollars in pet care expenses through her work with homeless cats won a U.S. Tax Court judgment against the IRS and was able to claim the expenses as a tax deduction.
  • The judgment opens the door for volunteers of IRS-approved non-profit animal rescue groups to deduct unreimbursed expenses incurred in the care of homeless pets.
  • If your expenses exceed $250, you’ll need a letter from the non-profit organization confirming your status as a volunteer or foster caregiver.

By Dr. Becker

Did you foster a pet or several last year? If so, you might be able to deduct related expenses on your 2012 federal income tax return.

Cat Lover Sues I.R.S. and Wins

A woman in Oakland, California, Jan Van Dusen, is a retired attorney and cat lover. Ms. Van Dusen reported a $12,000 charitable contribution on her 2004 federal income tax return for expenses she incurred for vet care, pet supplies, and cleaning supplies related to caring for feral and semi-feral cats in her home.

The IRS disallowed the entire deduction, so Ms. Van Dusen sued the Commissioner of the IRS in U.S. Tax Court. In June 2011 the court ruled she was entitled to deduct almost the full amount, less a few expenses that couldn’t be linked exclusively to foster pet care.

Deductible Expenses Must Meet Certain Criteria

The court’s judgment in Ms. Van Dusen’s favor establishes that the IRS must recognize expenses related to fostering pets for approved charities. In Van Dusen’s case, she was volunteering for an organization called Fix Our Ferals, which is recognized by the IRS as a Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Items like pet food, litter, crates, vet bills and medications used in fostering activities are deductible, as well as a portion of your household utilities if you have an area of your home dedicated exclusively to caring for foster pets.

If your expenses are over $250 for the year, you’ll need a letter from the non-profit organization confirming your status as a volunteer or foster caregiver.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the court’s decision “… clears the way for volunteers of animal-rescue groups like the ASPCA and Humane Society of the U.S. to deduct unreimbursed expenses that further the groups' missions, such as fostering stray animals.”

“This is the first time the court has addressed these expenses,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel of the Humane Society, in a release. “Now we want to get the word out.”

In Court Van Dusen Was Painted as “Crazy Cat Lady”

According to Ms. Van Dusen in an interview with ABC News, the sheer number of cats she fostered had the IRS painting her as the “crazy cat lady” during court proceedings.

Van Dusen’s response:

“Those of us who do animal rescue think of it as an avocation. It is not a hobby; it is more of a calling. It is definitely community service. We go places where it is scary to be, and talk to people who are scary to talk to, to try to turn things around so that the animals are safe. If you are crazy, you cannot be effective. You need all of your faculties for this work."

(Update: Sadly, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland animal control officers have since removed over 90 cats and two dogs from Ms. Van Dusen’s home due to the condition of the animals. She was charged with one count of felony animal cruelty.)