Many people consider pets to be members of the family. But at tax time, our four-legged dependents aren't deductible. There are, however, some animal-related expenses the Internal Revenue Service does allow.

After a landmark 2011 U.S. Tax Court case, pet care volunteers can now deduct the cost of fostering animals. In Jan Van Dusen v. Commissioner, an Oakland-based cat lady successfully argued that the expense of caring for dozens of stray felines for a local rescue group should be deductible as a charitable contribution.

Any unreimbursed expenses, such as food or medical bills, have to be directly related to animal care, said Richard Panick, a spokesman for the IRS.

If you've already completed your forms ahead of Monday's midnight deadline, keep in mind animal expenses for next year. Keeping receipts and documenting those expenses are key. Claims of more than $250 should be backed by a letter from the 501(c)3 organization.

"Even with one or two foster pets, the food, supplies, and vet care adds up," said Sue Trapp, an eight-year volunteer for Animal Friends Rescue Project. Since 1998, the Pacific Grove-based group has helped find homes for strays from Stockton to Salinas.


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Taxpayers with service animals, such as dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind, can deduct the cost of food, care and training as medical expenses. Puppy raisers for service dog organizations can also claim qualified expenses when they itemize deductions. Service animals aren't always dogs -- some are cats, monkeys and horses -- but they have to be specifically trained to do tasks that ease the disability of the owner. In any situation, people should be prepared to have documents that justify their claim, Panick said.

Pet care costs from a job-related move can be deducted along with other relocation expenses. As in other claims, keeping costs limited to those directly related to the move, and saving receipts, is important.

Adoption fees for pets aren't considered deductible. But any donations above the standard fee can be claimed. Similarly, volunteering your services can't be claimed, but any travel to and from providing those services is OK. For example, a professional dog trainer can't claim their usual fee for dog training services when volunteering for an animal shelter.

There may be other circumstances, for search-and-rescue or guard duty dogs, in which deductions are also possible. A professional tax preparer or accountant should be consulted if any questions arise about valid deductions.

Contact Elizabeth Devitt at 408-920-5064.