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Is McCotter Barking Up the Right Tree with Tax Deductions for Pet Owners?

October 15, 2009 · 26 comments

lylecrop.jpg

In 1999, my husband and I decided that our house was too big and empty for the two of us. So we did what many couples our age did: we got a dog. Our lab mix, Lyle, has been a part of our family ever since. He goes with us to Maine on vacation every year. He’s been camping with us across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and has splashed through the beaches of North Carolina. He has snatched the occasional pie on Thanksgiving (maintaining his “who me?” expression all the while covered in meringue). And as the first official “grandpuppy”, he even gets gifts from my mom at Christmas.

When we first got him, we dubbed him the “Six Million Dollar” dog. He had not been treated well as a puppy and when he found us at our local SPCA, he had serious respiratory and intestinal infections. He sneezed the entire way home and later, vomited continuously. As a result, we got to know our vet pretty well early on. Since then, he’s survived Lyme disease (twice!) and an attack from a dog down the street which resulted in several stitches. I would venture to say that we’ve paid as much for his care as we have for our three kids.

Since I filed my taxes today (hey, no judgments), I was reminded that deductions and credits allowed for children can be significant. Not so for pets. Except in the case of service animals, you’re not allowed any deductions for the care of pets. That may, however, be changing.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) has introduced a bill, Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (“HAPPY Act”) which would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $3,500 a year in pet care expenses. That may elicit a chuckle or two from his colleagues on the Hill but before they dismiss the idea, they should consider these statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • In 2006, nearly half of pet owners, or 49.7%, considered their pets to be family members.

  • There are more than 72 million pet dogs in the U.S. and nearly 82 million pet cats. (taxgirl note: that’s roughly equivalent to the number of taxpayers that same year)
  • The average veterinary expenditure per household for all pets was $366 in 2006.

The bill would allow a deduction for “amounts paid in connection with providing care (including veterinary care) for a qualified pet expense other than any expense in connection with the acquisition of the qualified pet.” Qualified pets would include legally owned, domesticated, live animals. So dogs yes, illegal ferrets and such, no. You can read the entire text of the bill here.

Clearly, animal rights groups think this is a good idea. “We think this is as much a health care bill as any,” said Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs at the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s a human health issue to ensure that pets are provided with better care because of the role they play in our families.”

On the one hand, I’m a little skeptical. We are, after all, in a tough economy with a huge deficit. More tax cuts?

But I do *get* it. For many taxpayers, like me, pets are family. And the cost of providing quality care for a pet can be mind-boggling (our trip to Penn for Lyle’s emergency stitches ran over $1000). Maybe – and it’s a real maybe – the availability of deductions might encourage some pet owners to provide better care for their pets – if you’ve ever seen Animal Planet’s Animal Cops, you know what I’m talking about.

So, what do you think: should the care of pets be considered deductible?

(Hat Tip: @huma_rashid and @beskeie)

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 pmac October 15, 2009 at 8:21 am

No way………

2 Robert D Flach October 15, 2009 at 8:24 am

KPE-

I love animals, more so then many people ( I mean I love animals more than people – not that I love animals more than most other people do), and have had as many as 4 cats at a time (down to only one).

I prefer raising cats to raising children – much less expense and agita!

But I do think this is a stupid idea. The Tax Code is complicated enough without adding frivolous deductions.

The HAPPY Act proposal is just another politician’s attempt to get attention.

TWTP

3 Kate October 15, 2009 at 8:26 am

I also have two pups that are spoiled rotten. Both are originally rescues and have an ongoing competition to see who can cost the most at the vet. So of course I’m a little biased when I say that I’d love to be able to deduct pet expenses from my taxes.

But if the original bill can’t go through, I’d love to see a compromise that rewards people who adopt from rescues or shelters. Perhaps being able to deduct vet expenses for the first year or being able to deduct the cost of any pre-existing conditions for animals that have serious ongoing care issues. – K

4 garagefather October 15, 2009 at 9:21 am

You know that your tax code is a giant joke of a monstrosity when people even consider this nonsense. With all the other nonsense in our tax code, you can see why people would lose their mind and propose such a ridiculous thing as making pet expenses deductible. I say get rid of all deductions and make a simple flat tax. My local taxes work just fine on a flat tax system. If you are breathing and working, you pay a flat rate based on a percentage of your income. Everyone pays the same rate regardless of their income, marital status, how many kids they have, or how many pets they have. All those things mentioned are lifestyle choices and lifestyle choices are just that: choices. A drug addict makes a lifestyle choice to use drugs. Should we make their drugs tax deductible too? We should all pay the same rate regardless of the choices we make. Enough favoritism so that politicians can pit us against each other and provide special tax breaks for favored constituency groups, all for the purpose of buying votes or promoting “preferred” behaviors from constituents. Go read a classic history book and see if you can find anything about the founding of this country that supports the system of income taxation like we have today. No matter how you slice it, it is un-American.

5 Bo Ives October 15, 2009 at 9:21 am

Pets are family, but unlike children, pets will never be future taxpayers.

6 Kelly October 15, 2009 at 9:23 am

Bo, excellent point!

7 Paula October 15, 2009 at 11:21 am

I’d say no. I’m not currently a pet owner, but I know pet expenses can be quite costly, especially without pet insurance. However, I agree with Bo.

I also agree that the tax code is already a mass of confusion; there isn’t enough time or energy to credit or deduct for all that may affect taxpayers.

8 Kay October 15, 2009 at 11:42 am

Love that Lyle get gifts from grandma! Our cat, the sorely missed, always lovable but never deductible Zeke, was technically my grandmother’s first greatgrandchild. Mam-ma had a wall covered in pictures of the greatgrandkiddies, but no greatgrandkitty. When I noted that Zeke was not there, she had me send her a photo, which she promptly framed and added to the collection. Some of my cousins still aren’t talkign to me because of my equating Zeke with their kids!

9 Todd @ Personal Finance Playbook October 15, 2009 at 11:48 am

I don’t think so. I think tax breaks should be used to shape policy and create incentives. If you create an incentive to start a business, that has the potential to create extra tax revenue and potentially jobs (more tax revenue). The incentive to own a pet, in my opinion, would serve no gov’t purpose.

So while it would be nice to be able to claim our pets, I don’t think it’s necessary. I love animals – but this would not be a piece of legislation I would vote for. Just my $.02.

10 laurie ruettimann October 15, 2009 at 12:30 pm

So many animals are dumped at taxpayer shelters because medical care is too expensive and the barrier to treatment is so high. So I’d rather see a tax credit than use my local tax dollars to euthanize an animals.

11 laurie ruettimann October 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm

So many animals are dumped at taxpayer shelters because medical care is too expensive and the barrier to treatment is so high. I’d rather see a tax credit than use my local tax dollars to euthanize an animal.

12 Wayne Phillips October 16, 2009 at 8:50 am

Lyle has lived a life of luxury. Greatly loved by the family, inluding my wife who isn’t fond of dogs, Lyle has brought a wealth of love and a treasury of memories to the family.

But as for tax deduction, the tax rules are so complicated now. It will never end until taxpayers sya enough, which I doubt they or Congress will do, even to save the country from financial ruin.

A simplified tax, a flat tax, anything to reduce the complication of the existing tax codes.

One aside!! If a simple flat tax was enacted, the IRS could almost be obsolete. And so would a group of leaches, tax lawyers. The reason: Tax cheats would have less room to manipulate in their effort to pay no taxes. Everybody pays at the same rate, something.

13 Karen T. October 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I agree with Laurie R. Giving a tax break to people who adopt an animal from a shelter would utlimately be a cost savings over the tax dollars used to maintain (through personnel, facilities, maintenance, food, vet care, medicines, custodial, I could go on and on) the record number of animals at shelters . This number only keeps growing as so many are being abandoned as people are in financial stress and, sadly, until you’ve seen it as I have as a volunteer, you can’t believe the sheer number of animals that must be euthanized and locked in freezers by the 50 gallon drumful!

While a flat tax has long appealed to a number of us, face it people, it’s NEVER going to happen — not when TPTB in this nation are so in love with their tax write-offs for truly frivolous items: ball games, designer suits, even strippers and hookers etc. So here’s an idea that can help save animal lives and help the budget as well.

14 JBruce October 17, 2009 at 12:55 am

A silly idea. Maybe some sort of small tax break for “adopting” from an animal shelter but otherwise no. And this is coming from a guy who, in the last 18 months, probably has spent $500 a pound to keep a 10-pound dachshund healthy and alive. Yes, that’s $5,000. (I’ve had lots of dogs, and I always say that the purchase price of a dog is the cheapest bill you’ll ever get for him/her.) At least she doesn’t cost much to feed. On that score, I might think differently about a tax dodge if she were, instead, a couple of St Bernards.

15 David Wilkenfeld October 19, 2009 at 11:19 am

I live in Quebec, which is noted as the “puppy mill capital of North America”. We have few real deterrents to animal cruelty. Generally speaking, our society treats animals will little regard for their well-being. It’s shameful. I think this bill would be a positive step in the right direction. These arguments about the tax code already being too complicated have no relevance. The tax code will always be too complicated, regardless of whether this bill would pass. People love their pets. It’s a fact of life. Helping to provide for their care would be the sign of a humane society.

16 Karen T. October 19, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Couldn’t agree more, David Wilkenfeld!

17 Olivia October 22, 2009 at 10:54 pm

As a tax professional, there are few things that bother me more than the tax deductions for lifestyle choices. I include spouses, children, charitable organizations, and pets in that statement. I favor a consumption tax or flat tax as a second choice, but have little faith it will happen.
It also seems that a pet is one of those “questionable” deductions – there is really no way for IRS matching on that particular item.
The other interesting facet here is the question of where this item is a deduction. If it is considered another itemized deduction, then many people won’t even have a benefit from this.

18 Joe F. October 23, 2009 at 5:01 am

There needs to be something we pet lovers can get. Our pets are, in essence, DEPENDENT on us for food, shelter, medical care just like our children. They may not talk like us, walk like us, eat the same food as us, but they do love the same way that we do. My dogs get very excited when I come home from work. I get my hugs and kisses which is a good thing when you’ve been dealing with idiots all day. I call them “my girls”, not my dogs. Anything would be better than nothing.

19 doglover October 31, 2009 at 9:15 am

Like many other have said, I have always and still do regard my three dogs as members of my family. I refer to them as my “kids.” That does not mean they are. While it would be great for me financially — I spend a lot of money on my dogs — I vigorously oppose this bill. It is wrong on many levels, many of which have already been described. Besides these, for those who think it would encourage adoption or encourage people to care for their pets, or solve “puppy mills” (something never defined) dream on. Just like with welfare, we’ll have people getting dogs/cats just for the deduction and not caring at all. Huge opportunity for fraud — how would you verify what was paid or if you actually have the pets you claim? Now the gov’t is in your business, knowing how many pets you have and how you treat them. This is a bribe to take away your private property rights.

20 Bonnie October 31, 2009 at 4:30 pm

IMHO, I own and feed a few doggies, it is part of my life to have them, but unlike children, they will never grow up and get a job. I do not HAVE to pay for their education, and mine rarely wear clothing LOL.
Dogs are sort of luxuries. BUT, here is my objection to this “deduction”. The government will know I have them, will demand identification (i.e. like a social security number) and then they can swoop in and “inspect” to see if all is kosher in my home. After all, they are “giving” me a benefit. Then if they do not like the fact I let them sleep on the sofa ( or whatever) they can take them away, after all, I have now allowed the government to EQUATE my dogs with my children as having the same value.
Can you follow this train of thought ??

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