Helping out a stray dog is a generous thing to do -- and it may be tax-deductible. Up until 2011, the only write off for such an action was through a donation to an animal-welfare nonprofit. In that year, however, a tax judge made it easier to claim a deduction if you spend money to help a nonprofit help animals. If your rescue work is independent of any group, you can't claim a write off.
If you donate money or property to an Internal Revenue Service-qualified animal-welfare group, you can deduct the donation. With money, you just deduct the amount of the donation, up to IRS limits. For property -- cages, dog food, a used car -- you claim the fair market value of whatever you donated. If you buy dog food and drop it off, the price of the food determines the value; if you give a car, you need to get out a price guide and determine what it's worth.
If you spend your own money to support the organization's efforts, the 2011 case lets you write off your expenses. Jan Van Dusen, the plaintiff in the tax court case, fostered stray cats in her home; she received a $12,000 deduction for animal-care expenses such as food, veterinary bills, litter and paper towels. If you use your car to help out -- volunteering at a dog shelter, for instance -- you can claim parking fees, tolls and gas, or deduct a flat rate for each mile you drive in the service of that shelter.
The time and work you put into caring for rescue dogs is not deductible. Even if you take a day off from work to help out at the shelter, you can't write off any lost income. Donating space in your home for a rescue-group meeting or to foster dogs doesn't cut it with the IRS either. If you eat out because you're spending the evening working at the shelter, that's not a write-off, nor is paying for a babysitter while you're out saving dogs.
Claiming the Deduction
As far as the IRS is concerned, which it comes to deductions donations for any animal welfare site are treated no differently than donations for any cause. You can't claim a write-off unless you itemize. You must have receipts that prove you spent the money you say you did. If you make a purchase of more than $250 -- for a vet bill, for instance -- get a letter from the charity acknowledging your contribution. If the group gives you any benefits in return for your donations, you have to deduct the value of the benefit from your write-off.
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