claim kittens as dependents?

As cat parents, we all wish, come tax time, that we could claim our feline family members as dependents or, at the very least, claim some of the expenses for their care on our tax return. While you can’t do it for your own cats, you may be able to deduct some expenses related to volunteering with or fostering for a legitimate cat rescue organization.

A recent court case in California garnered quite a bit of attention for this issue. From the Don’t Mess With Taxes blog:

“Jan Elizabeth Van Dusen claimed $12,068 as a charitable contribution deduction on her 2004 tax return for unreimbursed volunteer expenses she incurred while caring for feral cats.

The Oakland, Calif., attorney volunteered with Fix Our Ferals, an IRS-qualified 501(c)(3) organization. Van Dusen trapped feral cats, had them spayed or neutered, housed them while they recuperated, got the animals vaccinated and other necessary medical treatments and then released them back into the wild. She also provided long-term foster care to cats in her home.

Essentially, according to filings in the tax deduction case, Van Dusen devoted her entire life outside of work to caring for the cats:

Each day she fed, cleaned, and looked after the cats. She laundered the cats’ bedding and sanitized the floors, household surfaces, and cages. Van Dusen even purchased a house “with the idea of fostering in mind.” Her house was so extensively used for cat care that she never had guests over for dinner.

Upon reviewing Van Dusen’s 2004 tax return, the agency determined that she owed $4,383. Most of the due tax was from the IRS’ disallowance of her charitable deduction of cat care expenses.”

Van Dusen took her case to Tax Court, where a judge found that her care of the cats did qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. However, he disallowed some of the claimed expenses, such as cremation of a cat, bar association dues and department of motor vehicle fees, saying they were “categorically not related to taking care of foster cats and therefore not deductible.” The judge also found that the woman wasn’t keeping adequate records of the expenses.

IRS Publication 526 states that

You can claim a deduction fo:r a contribution of $250 or more only if you have an acknowledgment of your contribution from the qualified organization or certain payroll deduction records.

If you made more than one contribution of $250 or more, you must have either a separate acknowledgment for each or one acknowledgment that lists each contribution and the date of each contribution and shows your total contributions.

This is good news for those who volunteer for a legitimate recue group with 501(c)(3) status designating the group as a charitable organization, which makes it good news for animal rescue.

As with all tax related issues, you should always consult with a qualified tax advisor before claiming any deductions on your tax return.

Click here to watch a Wall Street Journal report titled Cat Lady Beats IRS in Court.

Do you volunteer with a legitimate cat rescue group? If so, do you deduct expenses related to your volunteer activities?

Photo: morguefile

10 Comments on A tax write-off for cat care expenses?

  1. I have a colony of about 11-12 cats for several years now.. plus 2 ferals I homed.. I feed morning and night ..wet and dry… have heated water bowls, 2 heated tents, 2 houses I had built… some are now 5-6 years old … it starts costing.. I use about 8-10 cans 9 lives a day plus large bowl of 9 lives complete… it gets costly… they are all now TNR… is there anyway to get a tax break or do I need to form a 501c?

  2. What help do i qualify for. when the heartless people move from our private community, they leave their cats behind, homeless and hungry. thankfully someone in the neighborhood gets them medical care, but i have been helping with the feeding. it started out 1 cat was coming for feeding, but now i have more than 6 cats coming for their meals, and 2 are seniors and prefer the wet food supplement (i also put dry in the bowl). i also leave bottled water in their bowls 24/7, but take the food in after dark, due to raccoons and possum problems. i have 2 cats of my own, so i feed them from my personal food, and i dont have the money to really keep it up.

    • Julia, I’m glad the case highlighted and clarified this issue, because a lot of people volunteering aren’t aware of this write-off opportunity.

  3. Yes, over the years I have claimed unreimbursed expenses such as travel, cat food, litter, etc. when helping animals for qualified non-profits. Good documentation is key. Time is not a deductible expense.

  4. I do claim a lot of my cat-related expenses because I write about cats and get paid. It was discussed years ago at a Cat Writers’ Conference and I do have a good accountant. And receipts.

  5. I volunteer for three groups: Bengal Cat Rescue, Pawsitively Precious Adoptions (a feral cat TNR and rescue group) and Heritage Humane Society. I do deduct expenses related to my foster cats – the food, litter, toys, etc I buy for them, but nothing else. I also take mileage deductions for driving to the PPA adoption site and when I help with transport for BCR. I’m always a little scared about taking too many deductions, though, so I think I generally under-count what I take. I do keep all my receipts and highlight each item that was for a foster cat.

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