With Tax Day rapidly approaching, I’ve been wrapping up the preparations for our annual meeting with our accountant. The first step, of course, is printing out a report from our banking software of all transactions from 2012. And there are those figures in black and white, inescapable. The bottom line on every expense category. How much did we spend on eating out? Oh, very reasonable this year! Go us! And on clothes? Hm. Maybe I could shop at Kohl’s a little more and at J. Crew a little less. The expense line that sort of took my breath away was the one that begins with a capital C and ends with an o. Four letters.
I remember Cleo’s grandmother Jan telling a story about taking one of her Bedlingtons, Sterling, to visit at a retirement community. As she walked down the hallway, she heard one of the residents say to another, “Oh, look. That’s one of those dogs that rich people own.” Funny story. We laughed. My response was, “We are rich! Rich in the love of our Bedlingtons.” Okay, pretty corny, I know.
It’s not that Cleo, in and of herself, is expensive, even though John always greets our return from the vet with the line, “How much did our little hothouse flower cost this time?” I recognize that I am the one who insists on taking her to the vet at the slightest provocation. In fact, I’ll be taking her in the next couple minutes so that the doctor can have a look at a little lump on Cleo’s lip. I pulled a tick off of her the other day and a swelling at the site hasn’t gone away. Neither John nor I can bear the idea that she might be uncomfortable. She’s so stoic that she doesn’t let on unless she’s beside herself with pain. So off to the vet we go. She’s our little girl.
And I’m the one who insists on buying her the fancy food. Truly, we joke that it looks and smells so good, it’s what we’ll buy for ourselves when our retirement money starts to run out. If we can afford it.
So the food and the vet bills, the groomer, the toys, the treats, and the training classes all add up. Here’s what I want to know: How come we can’t deduct our pets as dependents? They definitely are—I mean, they depend on us for so much. A fifteen-year-old dog is far more helpless at earning a living than a fifteen-year-old human.
Many, many years ago, I knew someone who did claim his pets, two cats and a dog, as dependents. “My wife and I aren’t going to have kids,” he told me, somewhat defensively. “As far as we’re concerned, our pets are our kids.” Of course, I wanted to know what the pets’ names were because I could just imagine a Snowball Jones or Rover Smith. Like many people, they gave their pets human-sounding names: Brian, Eloise and—the biggest reach—Saint. I have no idea if the IRS ever found out. I guess it wouldn’t be particularly suspicious if you had a cat who lived to be 21 or so; one might imagine a child developing her independence at that age. But wouldn’t you wonder if a couple’s children kept disappearing from the Claimed Dependents page at the age of 13 or 14, only to be replaced by newborns? Maybe the IRS doesn’t follow us closely enough to be aware of something like that. And before you ask, I had the same question: Yes, this fellow and his wife did get their pets social security numbers. I don’t even want to think of all the laws they must have broken.
According to the Turbo Tax Blog (who knew, right?), the reason the IRS doesn’t allow pets to qualify as dependents is because they won’t grow up to be tax-paying citizens themselves, as human dependents will. That seems a bit narrow-minded, frankly. I’m sure most of us could, off the top of our heads, list any number of humans who didn’t grow up to become tax-paying citizens. On the other hand, an article in Forbes magazine gives some great tips on what one can claim as deductions vis à vis our pets, including moving expenses (in some cases), business expenses for a guard dog, or service dog expenses.
In 2009, a US Representative from Michigan, Thaddeus McCotter, introduced the HAPPY Act (Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years—cute, no?) which would have granted a $3500 yearly deduction to pet owners. Some people felt it was in acknowledgement of the fact that pet owners pour something like 55 billion dollars into the pet-based economy each year. Unfortunately, Rep. McCotter’s attention shifted away from the HAPPY Act, first to the “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra and then to scandal-mitigation. It seems the great majority of the names on the petitions his campaign submitted to get him on the Michigan ballot at re-election time were fake. Then, a TV pilot which he had written was leaked to the press. In it, he proposed hosting a reality show the description of which combined the words “crude” and “female anatomy” in a career-ending way. But really, can one think unrelentingly harshly of a politician who tried to get a tax break for U.S. pet owners?
At our meeting with our accountant last year, I asked if we could deduct some of Cleo’s expenses. I wasn’t going overboard! I was only thinking of the expenses accrued towards getting her certified as a therapy dog, a process directly associated with my work, after all. He regarded me for a moment with a patient, gentle, non-judgmental countenance, then sighed ever so slightly. “No,” he said, and flipped the page of our tax planner.
Let me just be completely clear to any IRS auditors who might be reading this: I didn’t, I won’t, I wouldn’t. And Cleo still has no social security number. Though I’m not ruling out the possibility that she’ll grow up to be a solid, tax-paying citizen some day.
By the way, The Educated Dog (the book) is now available in hard copy as well as ebook form. Visit CleoTheBedlington.com to order and to listen to the weekly podcast.