This week the IRS was required to change its tune when it comes to some less than popular tax deductions. A women in California claimed the expenses she incurred from assisting a 501(c) 3 animal rescue group to save feral cats from living on the streets in Oakland CA. She defended her claims in court, and while her win — requiring the IRS to allow her deductions — really isn’t specific to those assisting animal rescue groups, it appears that the media saw it as such.
The Wall Street Journal, who essentially broke the story, reported the case as a legitimate redefinition of what could be considered as a tax deduction when a volunteer spends his or her own money on genuine expenses for a no:n-political, registered charity. However, the fever of media stories that followed focused on the ‘crazy cat lady’ angle of the story. See one example here: IRS can no longer discriminate against extreme cat lovers.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jan Van Dusen, the plaintiff in the case, loves cats. But I don’t think this success should be touted as a singular victory for animal rescue volunteers as much as it is for all volunteers who spend their money for many different charities to fight domestic violence, prevent environmental pollution or assist in AIDS prevention.
Don’t get me wrong. This is wonderful news, and it’s wonderful that this case was fought over tax deductions for a cat rescue group. But would there be the scurry of news articles about this issue if the case hadn’t involved animal rescue? There would be some, but I think mainstream society would view deductions taken by volunteers to help the (human) homeless to be much more palatable. Would the IRS have questioned someone who claimed expenses for spending their own money to clean up a school yard or to prevent pollution (under the direction of a 501(c)3 of course)?
My guess (and it’s just a guess right now) is probably not. The IRS accused Van Dusen of trying to deduct personal expenses, even when those expenses resulted from fostering roughly 70 cats in her home through Fix Our Ferals — probably while they waited to be released or adopted. Everything from paper towels to electricity are heavily used when you foster cats, and those are the deductions that Van Dusen claimed. Perhaps the IRS didn’t know what it takes to foster cats?
Animal rescue is no different a philanthropic endeavor than helping homeless people, feeding the hungry or saving the environment. Yet for some reason it’s seen as the volunteer activity that is conducted by people on the fringes of society, and that spending money on the rescue of cats is a luxury, not a necessity brought on by a social problem.
Yes, there are fanatics who try to rescue every cat and bring them into their homes, but there are fanatics in every group of people. What Van Dusen, and those volunteers like her are doing is filling a gap in society that is otherwise unmet. We have a feral cat and animal overpopulation problem in the US and Canada. Rescue workers are trying to alleviate this problem, and would love nothing more than to celebrate the day when every cat has a safe and loving home. But these volunteers are not ‘crazy cat ladies’ for taking in 70 foster cats or spending their own money to fix (no pun intended) a feline overpopulation problem.
As an animal rescue volunteer, I’m not on the fringes of society — I am the society, and so are my fellow animal advocates who work to bring balance to an issue that is so out of balance.
A special thanks to Deborah Howard of the Companion Animal Protection Society for posting this story on Facebook.