At the beginning of each year — after the goodwill of the holiday season has passed, and before we get a handle on writing new dates in our checkbooks – we Americans are forced to take a long hard look at our finances and face the Tax Man.
Each W2 and 1099 that arrives in our mailboxes presents new questions. A man who just changed jobs could be asking “Can I roll over my 401(k) without a penalty?”. And the woman faced with hard evidence that she truly did make more money this year is wondering why, no matter how high her salary, the cost of living is always higher? Then there are those wondering what FICA means, or if they are going to get enough of a refund to pay off their holiday purchases.
And, amongst all those, you will also find at least one person wondering if he can claim his furry friend as a dependent.
Let’s face it, for many of us our pets are family, and for some of us they are the only family we have. Not only that, but caring for our animal friends is as much of an emotional, and financial, commitment as taking care of a child — and sometimes the bond is just as strong.
Depending on the breed, a cat can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, and a dog from 10 to 15. That’s longer than some romantic relationships, and longer than some have lived at the same address or held the same job. Even smaller, shorter-lived companions, like rodents, take up a lot of space in our hearts, and pocketbooks.
Unfortunately, unless you can convince the government that Felix is a service animal, and that “snuggleitis” is a valid medical disorder, you can’t deduct his care and feeding on your taxes. As a matter of fact, aside from service animals, the only other way to claim animals on your taxes is if they are livestock, or some other business expense.
Well, in July or 2009, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter sponsored H.R. 3501, the “Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act,” to amend the IRS Code to allow deductions for pet expenses. The Bill was co-sponsored by Democrats Steve Cohen and Jared Polis, and proposed to allow a tax deduction of up to $3,500 per year for qualified pet care expenses. Qualified expenses included veterinary care, but did not include the cost to acquire the pet; and qualified pets were defined as any “legally owned, domesticated, live animal,” and did not include animals used for research, animals previously claimed as business or medical expenses.
The bill received support from several animal rights organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The bill also faced opposition from several groups including the Tax Policy Center and the Sportsman’s and Animal Owners Voting Alliance.
Although the bill was presented to the house Committee on Ways and Means, it was never voted on and never made it out of committee.
So, you might be asking, “What does a failed bill from 2009 have to do with my situation today?” After all, the bill never passed so you can’t deduct your pet’s care. True. But what that 2009 bill did was set a precedent. Because record H.R. 3501 exists, and because at least two congressmen were willing to sponsor the bill, pet owners have a small degree of leverage.
Anyone can use information on the bill to start a petition requesting their state legislators, or even the President, reintroduce the bill. At this point in history the bill probably won’t pass, but it can help continue the dialogue, which is an important step.