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Filing Taxes? Don’t Forget to Claim Your Foster Dog!

In a groundbreaking victory for animal rescuers around the country, one California animal foster fought the Internal Revenue Service in court – and won! As a result of Van Dusen v. Commissioner,  animal rescuers nationwide that are fostering dogs and/or cats for approved charities may claim the expenses during tax time.

An approved charity is one that is recognized by the IRS with the 501(c)(3) designation as a Not-for-Profit organization. Fostering expenses eligible for deduction are food, medicines, veterinary bills, crates, garbage bags, and the like. Even a portion of your utilities can be considered expenses as long as a a specific area of your home is only used for the care of the animals and nothing else.

In addition to animal rescue, these tax laws apply to all volunteer expenses related to charitable work for an approved organization.

If you foster a dog (or many dogs!) make sure to save any and all receipts, and, if expenses add up to over $250 for the year, obtain a letter from the charitable organization that confirms your volunteer or foster status.

The Humane Society has said that their volunteers spend, on average, between $2,000 and $15,000 each year on out-of-pocket expenses related to fostering animals.

There are currently more than 1.5 million charitable organizations recognized by the IRS, with volunteers spending millions of dollars out of pocket to support them. Finally, those volunteers have an opportunity to be rewarded for their generosity and kindness.

Are you an animal foster? Have you ever claimed those expenses on your tax filing? Share your experiences with us below!

49 Responses to Filing Taxes? Don’t Forget to Claim Your Foster Dog!
  1. Valerie
    March 31, 2014 | 4:27 pm

    We lost our 501c status last year after the owner misinterpreted the law and thought 990′s didn’t need to be filed for orgs making under 50K a year. This is the first year we are filing as a regular corporation and it is extremely confusing. We have refiled and are awaiting our reinstatement. We operate as a non profit but are not recognized as such. We are also a very small exotic bird rescue and have no paid positions. Are the animals in our care considered assets? Do we list all the cages we have as assets even though they were donated to us? Any advice would be helpful…floundering a bit here.

  2. Dody
    March 25, 2014 | 3:27 am

    One major detail is missing, here and is probably the main reason some have been told, by their preparer, that they cannot take this expense. That detail is that in order to use charitable contributions of any kind, you will need to report them on a Schedule A for Itemized Deductions. These include mortgage interest, personal property and real estate taxes paid, state and in some cases, sales tax, un-reimbursed job-related expenses, medical that exceeds 10% of your adjusted gross income and charitable contributions. The IRS automatically gives us a standard deduction amount for our filing status. For a single person, that amount is $6100, $12,200 for a married couple. You EITHER itemize OR use the standard, depending on which number is highest. If all of your itemized deductions don’t exceed the standard deduction, then you automatically use the standard for your filing status. So, if you don’t have enough to exceed that standard deduction amount, you won’t be taking those expenses on your tax returns.

    • alice smih
      March 25, 2014 | 11:24 am

      and geez dontcha know that eery “rescuer” and “foster’ does this out of the “goodness of their heart” why would they need a tax deduction?

      • Patricia K. McDaniel
        April 14, 2014 | 3:45 pm

        Alice, if I can get deductions then I will have more money back to turn into more rescue items or gas for transport….it is not that I am NOT doing this out of the kindness or goodness of my heart…it is that I am savvy and know that the more money I have, the more money I can spend on rescue….It is a responsible, mature way of handling money…AND, rescuing animals. Besides, is the government going to spend that money on rescue or protecting animals???

      • Sherri
        April 14, 2014 | 11:14 pm

        Alice, although we would love to save them all, it can be a financially draining endeavor! A little compensation just may make the difference of being able to care for 1 more animal waiting for a forever home. I am a Tax Professional and an animal lover & advocate, I can tell you that I have waited for years to see Congress finally pass this tax law!

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  7. Deej
    March 21, 2014 | 6:31 pm

    I am planning to adopt a dog from a rescue, can I take the adoption fee as a charitable donation on my next year taxes?

    • Becky
      April 15, 2014 | 12:28 pm

      If the Rescue organization is a registered charity, then yes. I was given the form and told this by the rescue that I’ve adopted 2 different dogs from. Have used the deduction successfully 2 different tax years with 2 different dogs (with a tax-prep guy). You do have to be filing an itemization though (sched A)

  8. Debbie Campbell
    January 28, 2014 | 9:23 am

    I take care of 6 dogs. These dogs belong to my children and somehow ended up at my house. I spent over 900 dollars in 2013 for dog food. Can I count this on my taxes.

    • Jill K
      January 30, 2014 | 12:48 pm

      I would doubt you could count this as they belong to your children, and are not fosters through a 501c3 Organization.

  9. Noel
    January 25, 2013 | 10:13 am

    I have a much different problem. I am disabled. I have no earned income. I have been fostering for 2 years now and tried to claim my gas expense only and was declined by my tax person. This is so unfair. Because I get no government help other than my SSI which I paid into for many years. I use my own money to support the dogs and cats I take back and forth to the vet, then foster them until well enough for adoption. No, I don’t stick them in only one part of the house my job is to socialize them which means making sure they not only are good with people and children but other cats and dogs too. So they can get adopted by anyone. I have saved over 30 animals this pasted year alone. I eat peanut butter for weeks at a time so I can take care of these throw aways. All Wrong.

  10. J
    January 20, 2013 | 4:02 pm

    Thank you for the people that have explained the differences in HSUS and the local humane society!! There is a huge difference!

  11. Jake
    January 20, 2013 | 2:43 pm

    The way around this is to keep all your receipts for expenses and consider them a donation to the organization you are fostering for! If I bought six bags of food and a crate to foster, I get the 501c3 to write out a receipt for goods donated. It’s really just a matter of the goods not swapping hands (what’s the difference? I give group X six bags of food and then they give them back to me to use for foster dog?…). Perfectly legit without going to court.

  12. jme
    January 16, 2013 | 1:12 pm

    we have long encouraged fosters to claim mileage (14 cents/ mi) and expenses as they are indeed a contribution to a 501c3, whether it’s under the terms fostering or not. they simply fall under the category of “in kind” donations, the same as if you donate a box of goods to the salvation army or goodwill and get a receipt with a blank space on it for the estimated value…only this is simpler and much less subjective. i am frankly surprised anyone had to make this a court case, as it seems perfectly law abiding to track it like any other donation or contribution to an official charity…the burden of responsibility does fall on the taxpayer, as always, to ensure proper tracking is done, as this is independent of any specifically monetary donations where a receipt is required by the charity. all charities should be able to produce an “in kind” receipt however, when asked, and i don’t think this should be new…although congrats and wonderful it was specifically tackled and achieved by this rescue!

    • Dorothy Nelson
      January 17, 2013 | 5:48 pm

      What forms are required to deduct the expenses? I have a service dog, and some things are deductable, but cannot find out how.

  13. Melissa
    January 15, 2013 | 6:56 pm

    Does anyone know if we can deduct the cost of vaccinations for our animals so they don’t share with our fosters? I get the PanLeuk immunization so I can safely foster. THAT’s what I need to deduct!!

    • jme
      January 16, 2013 | 1:14 pm

      my guess would be no way, that’s too much like using pets as dependents. it’s not a direct contribution to the charity, like although being paid mileage for a charity would be, they won’t likely let you deduct the oil change or belt repair you did (because of all the miles you put on your car for the charity)…although claiming pets as dependents would be an awesome next step :)

      • Pam Green
        March 2, 2013 | 3:07 pm

        I used to joke with my CPA that if only I could claim my horse as spouse (and he was of opposite gender to myself) and thus file jointly and then claim my dogs as our children, wow that would have been a real tax saver.

        on the other paw, Mitt R IS able to take deductions for his wife’s third rate dressage horse, presumably because as a breedable mare she is a business asset.

  14. Judith
    January 8, 2013 | 10:35 pm

    Yes, just because the tax professional says no to deducting expenses related to fostering only means they don’t know the laws. I had to educate my tax professional last year about deducting expenses for my therapy dog. He learned something new from me!

    • Sue
      June 6, 2013 | 2:21 am

      Judith, can you share with me what you are able to deduct for your therapy dog? I am a Marriage & Family Therapsit that uses a therapy dog in session with my clients. My CPA may not informed on this and I was hoping to obtain some information that I could share with him.

  15. Rhoda Copley
    January 6, 2013 | 2:32 pm

    Thanks for letting me know the difference in HSUS and my local. I have supported both, but now will only give to my local Humane Society!

    • Pam Green
      March 2, 2013 | 2:52 pm

      also don’t confuse your local SPCA, which almost certainly does shelter and/or foster, with ASPCA.

      and to further add to potential confusion, don’t confuse HSUS with American Humane Association, which does disaster rescues through a program they call Red Star. AHA also has some animal assisted therapy programs. also they are the ones who certify animal safety in motion picture making : “no animals were harmed” is their certification.

      it’s confusing and unfortunate that the terms “Humane” and “SPCA” can be used by so many unrelated organizations, local and national. Please don’t assume that all are bad or that all are good. You certainly can investigate your local orgs and find out who their leadership are and meet some volunteers. Chances are good that any local group is trying its best to accomplish good for local animals and that your ideas and efforts could be of real help in these goals.

  16. Linda K
    January 6, 2013 | 11:07 am

    Also, you can deduct all your mileage used transporting foster animals: to vet visits, to and from adoption events, from shelter to rescue, etc. Just keep a log in your vehicle (I am sure there is probably an app for it too!!)

  17. Robyn Reed
    January 5, 2013 | 12:42 pm

    The person who does my taxes (Texas) found a little bitty deduction a long time ago. It states “Any expenses incurred to alleviate the suffering of children and animals.” (Or something to that effect.) I am a retired teacher; not to many deductions, except my rescues. In 2010, I got 800. back. In 2011, I got 1600. back. I keep track of everything. I am also head agent in Texas, of a national 501(c)(3) rescue group.

  18. Cynthia
    January 5, 2013 | 11:42 am

    The “Humane Society” referred to in the article is HSUS, not one of the small local humane societies that actually does take care of animals. HSUS is an animal rights lobbying group. Their “members” might spend a lot of money on fostering animals, but that’s because HSUS does not have any animal care facilities and passes those duties (and the financial burden) on to the hard-working people who actually do help homeless animals. HSUS could easily reimburse those groups but they do not. This is just another example of the confusion caused by the words “Humane Society” in HSUS’s name. People think “the Humane Society” means an actual humane society that takes care of animals.

    • Lissie
      March 24, 2014 | 12:50 pm

      You are wrong Cynthia! The HSUS does utilize other facilities when they need them, but they treat their volunteers very well and do reimburse them for their travel and expenses!! Been there done that so don’t try to tell me other wise!!

      • alice smih
        March 24, 2014 | 7:42 pm

        of course they do in fact they reimburse themselves very well to the tune of millions of dollars a year much of which they invest in the Cayman Islands..in tax free off shore shelters ( for money.. not animals) The HSUS has NO real shelter and uses the poor shelters to further their cause and suck $$ from local shelters when people send them $$ instead of the local places. Do buy into their hype it is a shame that so many here have been duped.

  19. Sue
    January 5, 2013 | 12:17 am

    Humane Society volunteers? They don’t foster animals at all so wonder where their volunteers are really wracking up the charges. Maybe they’ll be able to get some contributions from those volunteers when they have to pay over the millions for the racketeering charges

    • Mark
      January 5, 2013 | 10:56 am

      Say what now? Why do you believe that humane society volunteers do not foster animals? I am a volunteer for two humane societies in my area, and I have fostered several dogs for them.

      • Celiza
        January 5, 2013 | 2:38 pm

        The wording in this and the linked articles capitalizes “The Humane Society” and does not specify whether they are referring to a LOCAL Humane Society, or the horrible lobbyist organization The Humane Society of the United States, which spends most of their donations in court lobbying to have Animal Rights bills tacked on to legislation and keep people from owning pets, while at the same time putting down any animals they get their hands on instead of finding them proper homes. THEY do not foster. I see the confusion here. And for anyone that has not heard of this, please utilize your favorite search engine to learn the truth about The Humane Society of the United States – donate and volunteer at your LOCAL Humane Society always, don’t give those liars one penny.

        • Jeri
          March 21, 2014 | 7:35 pm

          Celiza — You are reading and listening to fake Internet “non-profits” (many set up by Rick Berman — read about him on the Internet) set up to defame the HSUS. The HSUS is the most-effective organization in existence for attacking puppy mills, dog fighting, cockfighting, and all other cruel, savage treatment of animals — food animals, horses, and all others. The HSUS is the only hope for changing laws that allow animal cruelty! You are very badly misinformed and are believing lots of lies put out there by Berman and others who profit from the cruelty. You should try reading what the HSUS does, check out its rating on Charity Navigator, and stop badmouthing them. You only harm the voiceless have against the lobbyists for groups and businesses that put profit above cruel-free treatment of animals!

        • Lissie
          March 24, 2014 | 12:45 pm

          Sue and Celiza you do not know what you are talking about! Volunteers and employees of the Humane Society (local and of the US)do foster dogs and other animals all the time. And I don’t know where you get your info on HSUS but you are dead wrong. I have family that does volunteer work for them doing just the things that you claim that they do not do, and not doing the things that you claim they do. Just because you “saw it on the internet” does not make it correct information. Jeri is dead on right…read the truth not the crap!!

    • Advocates for Companion Animals
      January 5, 2013 | 11:23 am

      Humane Societies do have fosters. They are not required to, so all of them may not utilize fosters, but many do.

    • Brenda
      January 7, 2013 | 8:02 pm

      I also volunteer with a local Humane Society and have fostered dogs. I have taken them to adoption events and vet appointments. Have no idea how you got your info, Sue.

    • Joan Kautz Ellis
      January 14, 2013 | 12:14 pm

      I have fostered at my home for the HSUS. Yes, they use fosters. They are not all about Lobbying, they often partisapate in large mill raids, as this would bankrupt any individual rescue.

      You may be against the HSUS, but you also need to know all the facts! I hve fostered many for them. Do you think they want animals in a shelter if there is an investagation.

      Again, learn some more about what the HSUS does, not just what you think they do.

      • jme
        January 16, 2013 | 1:17 pm

        most humane societies are not linked or associated with the hsus. they are independent organizations, and not what this article is about. we have 2 humane socieities in western washington and neither is related to the other, nor hsus.

      • alice smih
        March 24, 2014 | 7:39 pm

        sorry the HSUS is a sham .. NOT affiliated with ANY local shelter.. NONE.. there is not “local and US” and no the HSUS fosters NO animals at all especially dogs and cats.. NONE.. it is a shame that poor people are duped by this animal rights organization who are hell bent on taking animals away from people
        Think Globally.. give locally
        Friends DO NOT Let friends Donate to the HSUS

    • kris z
      March 28, 2013 | 9:09 am

      if you are speaking of the hsus you are correct… but local ones.. i am sure this is true. the hsus is a horrible ‘thing’ and no one should waste their money supporting it. support your local shelters..

    • jacque Barric
      April 2, 2013 | 1:39 pm

      my local Humane society in Florida does ask for volunteers to take in dogs and cats for fostering. The shelter is overflowing all the time and they need that help.

    • Margaret
      March 25, 2014 | 10:58 pm

      I doubt that the volunteers take any deductions because they are probably reimbursed by the HSUS, however, I’m sure the HSUS is glad to take those deductions so they can show more costs than incomes.

  20. S
    January 4, 2013 | 2:24 pm

    I request an in kind donation receipt from the non profit I foster for and then attach receipts for all expenditures I have made. I then deduct these as a donation to the organization. It is important to get the in kind donation form though so you can document that the donation did benefit a 501(c)3.

    • Pam Green
      March 2, 2013 | 2:12 pm

      I too have done such deductions in the past, prior to Van Dusen decision, backed by receipts and corresponding checks and backed by a donation-in-kind letter from the 501c3 rescue with which I work. Never had a problem with IRS over this, perhaps because the amounts were relatively small. Also my CPA is pretty savvy and respected.

      Previously I had sent the rescue organization a cash donation equal to or a bit larger than my expenses and then gotten reimbursed for my expenses. More cumbersome for them and for me. So the Van Dusen method is better.

      Note that you do have to be part of a 501c3 to get this to work. I encourage all rescue people and foster folk to get connected to a 501c3 if they can find one compatible with their own standards and goals.

  21. nicole
    January 4, 2013 | 12:59 pm

    I asked my tax guy about this last year and was told no…I kept all my reciepts to ask again this year!

    • lo
      January 6, 2013 | 9:51 am

      I work for H&R Block, I’m a lab foster mom and have been deducting my expenses for 3 yrs now and it is a perfectly legitimate deduction under charitable contributions. (food, treats,toys,etc).
      Just because they never heard of it doesn’t make it not true. Maybe you should change accountants, he could be missing lots of other deductions too causing you to pay too much in taxes.

      • lo
        January 6, 2013 | 9:55 am

        I should add…proof of burden in an audit falls on the taxpayer so just keep receipts to backup up what you’re claiming like any other deduction.

    • Susan
      January 9, 2013 | 4:19 pm

      Be very clear about this when you speak to your tax adviser. We get many people who ask about claiming their pets ***as dependents***. That is not allowed. We hear it so often that I can see a tax adviser automatically saying no without asking additional questions. If you are fostering a pet then the expenses may be claimable.

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