Dogs are People, Too
Why it Should be Legal for You to Claim Your Pooch
Recently my place of employment, a public accounting firm in New Jersey, participated in “Bring Your Kid to Work Day.” Although I have no actual children, I am the proud parent of an over-excitable, lab-mix whom I fondly refer to as my dog-child. To my disappointment, my fur ball was left off the invite list as only human children were welcome. Aside from being, quite possibly, the best form of birth control ever (I’m on to you, management), the office event got me thinking: why is it that we can’t claim our four-legged friends as dependents on our tax returns?
On paper, dogs and children really aren’t all that different: They poop. They pee. They break shit. They need to be groomed and taken to the
doctor’s vet. They’re adorable, except when they’re ignoring you. Oh, and they’re expensive.
To cope with the latter, parents of human children are allowed a dependent exemption on their tax return, $3,900 for 2013 and $3,950 for 2014. In order to be eligible, the dependent must be the taxpayer’s qualifying child or qualifying relative and must meet the respective criteria for either of these two classifications. As a dog is very obviously not an actual child, I’ll make my argument for why my pooch should count as a qualifying relative. According to IRC Code Section 152, a qualifying relative must:
(1) Be a U.S. citizen, national, or resident of a contiguous country (i.e. Canada or Mexico).
Verdict: My dog was born in Georgia and lives in New Jersey. His ancestors have (probably) been in this country for longer than mine have.
(2) Be the taxpayer’s daughter (in-law), son (in-law), brother (in-law), sister (in-law), stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, father (in-law), mother (in-law), stepfather, stepmother, nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, or an individual whose principal place of abode is the taxpayer’s home and who is a member of the taxpayer’s household for the taxpayer’s entire tax year.
Verdict: My dog barely leaves my couch.
(3) Have a gross income for the applicable calendar year which is less than the exemption amount.
Verdict: My dog is a free-loader.
(4) Have over half of his support provided by the taxpayer for the calendar year in which the applicable tax year begins.
Verdict: See previous comment about free-loading.
(5) Not be a qualifying child of the taxpayer or any other taxpayer for any tax year that begins in the applicable calendar year.
Verdict: I may not have been a biology major, but I know enough about the birds and the bees to be certain that there is no way my dog is actually my child. Or anyone else’s, for that matter.
After checking the criteria, it would appear that man’s best friend should count as a qualifying relative. This is sadly not the case for one very simple, very typical reason: Animals (dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, water buffalo, whatever) lack the potential to grow into adults who contribute to society and pay taxes.
So there you have it. You raise a decent, society-contributing child and the government will give you an exemption for it knowing that said child will one day grow up into a decent, society-contributing adult. Define decent, society-contributing, you ask? This adult will earn a paycheck and pay his fair share of taxes on it. Your dog, well-behaved as he may be, will never be an income-earning individual and will therefore never be afforded an exemption.
With that said, there are a few situations in which doggy expenses are deductible:
(1) Guide dogs: the cost of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog is deductible.
(2) Breeding: an animal utilized explicitly for a breeding business can be depreciated and deducted accordingly, as can certain related expenses.
(3) Fostering: Food, litter, and veterinarian bills related to foster animals may be deductible.
(4) Moving: unreimbursed expenses incurred from moving as a result of a new job are deductible. This includes the costs associated with moving your furry friend.
Lesson learned here? As much as we may consider them our children, don’t expect your four-legged friend to fetch you anything but the newspaper – exemptions included.