Yesterday, a crop of news stories sprung up about the IRS ruling allowing foster parents to deduct expenses directly related to animal care from their taxes. While it is not a new allowance (the landmark case that inspired the ruling closed in 2011), the articles were shared pretty widely across social media among excited animal lovers in a matter of hours. Since tax season will soon be upon us, we sat down with ACCT Philly Executive Director Susan Cosby to talk tax deductions, foster parenting and how news of the ruling might affect the shelter.
TPD: How much can foster parents reasonably expect to spend on pet care in an average month, and what are the most common expenses?
SC: Foster parents should expect to invest in a lot of the same things adoptive pet parents would: dry and canned food, toys and treats, cat litter and litter boxes, crates, leashes – plus anything else they would like to spoil their new friend with. It really depends on the quality of the items purchased and how much the foster parent wants to purchase beyond the basics. Most foster parents I know (including myself) love to spoil our foster babies rotten with tons of toys and treats.
TPD: Aren’t some of the expenses covered by the shelter?
SC: Our organization provides free veterinary care for our animals in foster care, which greatly reduces the financial burden of fostering an animal – particularly one with special medical needs. When we have donated items like food, toys or even litter, we can often assist our foster parents with “starter” supplies.
TPD: What kind of proof do I need to give to the IRS to get a tax deduction? Besides itemized receipts, do I need anything from ACCT?
SC: Anyone seeking to take a tax deduction on supplies relating to foster care should speak with a tax professional, but in general, only expenses directly attributable to caring for foster pets can be deducted, and expenses over $250 have a greater burden of paperwork substantiation in order to be deductible. A tax professional is the best person to provide advice and prevent your deduction from being kicked back by the IRS should you be audited. Keep in mind that the organization you are fostering an animal for must have 501(c)3 status to make your contributions eligible for deduction.
TPD: Do you think the tax break will encourage more people to take in foster animals?
SC: It’s certainly a help! Volunteering time is not tax deductible, but things that you pay for sometimes are. If your contribution is furthering the group’s mission – like a foster parent does for an organization like ACCT Philly – your chances of being able to write off some of the related expenses are greater.
TPD: What are some of the other benefits of fostering?
SC: Saving lives! Who doesn’t want to hug kittens every morning? Watching a kitten grow or an injured dog heal is a fantastic experience. Helping those animals move into loving homes is sometimes bittersweet, but very satisfying. And then there’s room in your house for more!
TPD: What about if you already have another/other pets?
SC: We recommend that people make certain their pets are up-to-date on any vaccinations (as deemed necessary by their veterinarian), and that some foster pets are kept separate from household pets for a period of time. Your veterinarian is a great resource because she or he knows your pet better than the shelter staff will. If you have ever considered adding a pet to your household, but weren’t sure if your dog or cat would adapt, starting with a foster pet on a temporary basis is a great way to see if it would work out for everyone.
In 2012 ACCT Philly placed 3,000 animals in foster care, which made room for 3,000 more animals to be housed at the shelter (that’s 6,000 lives saved!). If you’re considering opening your heart and your home to a foster pet, check out ACCT Philly’s Foster Care Program.