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Posted by on Sep 29, 2009 in Politics, Society | 11 comments

HAPPY HAPPY health care reform for … pets?

I had an interesting conversation last night regarding a curious e-mail which my friend Ed Morrissey received about a new bill being introduced in the House of Representatives. The purpose of the legislation would be to provide tax deductions to people for the care of their pets.

ACTON, CA – founders Leo Grillo and Robert Davi are pleased that the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (“HAPPY”) Act was introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representative. The legislation introduced by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) is a federal bill that would reward pet owners by allowing them to deduct up to $3,500 for pet care costs, including veterinary services.

Before you assume that this is some sort of Democrat / Liberal bashing exercise, note that McCotter is a Republican and is widely regarded as a reliable conservative voice in the people’s house. Ed sees this as somewhat outside the scope of Congressional responsibility, not to mention being yet more clutter in an already dysfunctional tax code.

I like both Davi and McCotter, but this seems rather misguided, especially for a conservative Republican like McCotter. Republicans have been demanding tax simplification, not further complication, for the last few years, and for good reasons. The problem with the current tax code is precisely that “using the tax code to encourage positive behavior is common practice.” Congress and presidents routinely press for tax breaks for their ideas of social engineering, which is why we now spend hundreds of billions of dollars in tax compliance.

Even if one grants that as a legitimate mechanism for critical economic issues, would that include pet ownership? What critical purpose gets filled by owning a cat, dog, or a bird? How should one family’s pet get them off the hook for taxes that others pay?

Before you make any assumptions about my personal situation, here’s a picture of my Basset Hound and my Schnauzer. We also have three cats. The basset had one seizure and recently suffered a stroke. One of our cats had to have an MRI. (Take a guess what that costs.) Between pet food, cat litter and regular check-ups and medical procedures I blow through 3500 bucks a year easily, generally by mid summer. Could I use an extra 3500 dollar deduction? Sure!

But this is a crazy idea. Not only, as Ed points out, does it needlessly add further complications to the tax code, but pets are not children. (As much as we owners tend to think of them as such.) There is no requirement to have pets, and while it pains me to describe it this way, it is something of a “luxury” when it comes to taxation. I don’t expect my petless neighbors to foot the bill for my dogs’ expenses. (Hell, I’m already annoyed that I have to pay taxes for schools since I don’t have children.)

One other area which Ed doesn’t touch on is the question of verification and fraud. I suppose the vet bills could be tracked readily enough if we’re going to put enough people on the job, but what of the pet food and other normal household expenses? Are we to save every week’s grocery receipts for the year and mail them all in? And the IRS has to go through them all? And what of people who decide to claim they had a pet even though they don’t just for the new deduction? I can just see the IRS agents coming around to people’s homes each spring.

May 2010
AGENT: I see here that you claimed a deduction for your cat for last year.

OWNER: Yes, that’s right. My …. errr… cat.

AGENT: So, could I see the cat?

OWNER: I’m afraid he’s not home right now.

AGENT: Not home?

OWNER: No. I mean… he died.

AGENT: He died? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

OWNER: Yeah, well, thanks. You know how it is.
MAY 2011

AGENT: Sir, I see from your tax return that you claimed a deduction for your cat.

OWNER: Right.

AGENT: But you told me last year that your cat died.

OWNER: Ummm… yeah. Well, I got a new cat.

AGENT: Oh. Can I see the cat?

OWNER: Errrr… he’s not home right now I don’t think.

AGENT: Not home?

OWNER: No. He’s … uh… visiting friends.

AGENT: I see. Do you have a picture of your cat?

OWNER: A… picture…. yeah. Hang on. (Goes inside for a few minutes.) Yeah. Here ya go.

AGENT: Sir, this is a page from a magazine. It’s a pet food advertisement.

OWNER: Yeah. Well… my cat does some modeling work for extra money.

AGENT: Really? I don’t see any income for pet modeling on your form.

OWNER: I don’t do my cat’s taxes.

You get the idea. In any event, this looks like another piece of feel good legislation to drum up some votes with a sympathetic demographic group. I really don’t expect it to pass, but who knows? Like I said… I could use the deduction I suppose.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • Absurd, all the way around.

  • Kynes

    While I do agree that the point behind it is a bit absurd, all the difficulties you point out are already taken care of in most states that require dogs and cats to be licensed. Spread that out to any animal you’d like to have insured, and there you go.

  • kritt11

    As the current owner of 4 pets and many more who have passed on to the happy hunting grounds in the sky, it doesn’t seem that ridiculous to me.

    I still cringe when I remember our cat, Scooter’s, $800 vet bill for urinary tract infection and Linus’ $1100 ER bill for heart failure. These days the treatments for animals are similar to those given to humans, but most don’t have health insurance for their animals. Its hard for owners to just stand by and let the animals suffer and die, but many can’t pay those kind of vet bills.

    • Its hard for owners to just stand by and let the animals suffer and die, but many can’t pay those kind of vet bills.

      Yes, absolutely it’s hard. In fact, it can be heart-breaking. I’ve been a pet owner my entire life… and there have been points when I could not afford the care needed to preserve a loved animal. It never occurred to me, though, that such a problem was anyone’s but my own.

  • The absurdity is the idea that the government should be providing tax breaks for people to keep (care for) pets.

    • casualobserver

      As absurd as the idea that the government should raise my taxes to pay for other people’s healthcare?I would rather subsidize the animals’ care…..after all, their plight is not the result of their own efforts and choices in life.

    • JeffersonDavis

      The real absurdity is the tax code itself, even without pet exemptions.
      If a flat-tax structure were adopted, we wouldn’t be having conversations like this anymore.

      You pay 20%. You don’t file a return. You get nothing back. No exemptions. No deductions. No credits. Period.

  • CStanley

    Good grief. I would not only benefit from this personally as a pet owner, but also as a veterinarian, but I think it’s beyond ridiculous.

    And people wonder why conservatives often argue about slippery slopes?

    What’s actually amusing is that I remember years ago Rush Limbaugh satirizing the Clinton sponsored Family Leave Act by saying that eventually it would lead to employers having to give paid time off for employees who needed to take their pets to the vet. When real life comes so close to satire, you know things are getting out of hand.

  • Leonidas

    Hmm…. what about plants? Don’t they deserve healthcare too?

  • DLS

    In an ideal liberals’ world, we’d have “free” pet care as well as “free” human care.

    It’s another public-for private replacement, of pet health care benefits some employers offer already.

  • SweeDee

    God forbid we actually put into practice a tax break that through the simpliest of means can promote a strengthening of our collective character by promoting one of our best and most redeeming qualities – the bond between a human and their pet. Im a firm believer and first hand witness – animals can bring out the best in people. The passing of this Act allows for the potential of a better bond between animal and owner. By reducing the cost of pet healthcare, more loving homes would be made available for the number of animals sitting in shelters. Not to mention potential reduce the amount of abuse and neglect so many animals often suffer by owners who are stressed beyond their mental and economical threshold. So many animals suffer some form of abuse or neglect, and need a stable, loving environment. as a person who works in the Veterinarian Industry, more animals would have stable and loving homes if cost was not such a major factor. if so many of us weren’t distracted with the necessary trials and tribulations of budgeting our funds in this reckless economy, we’d probably have better relationships in all areas of our life. General abuse and negelct can come in so many different forms, and is often the result of economic factors. How many people can attest to suspecting they would have a healther relationships if money was not a constant factor driving you apart from someone you cared for or loved? Not only will this reduce the amount of homeless and unwanted pets sitting in shelters, but it can erradicate the resentment so many owners can develop against their pet for how costly they are. As it is now, there are healthy animals sitting in shelters waiting to be put down, not to mention the ones waiting to die because no one will adopt them due to the expensive health problems they have. A lot of us take for granted what we have, not just economically but socially. Some people dont have families, they dont know how to make friends, or form bonds and relationships. It might be hard for financially, mentally stable individuals to accept this, but many of the people around us are socially inept. Many of these individuals often find it easier to experience companionship with an animal. This behavior might never change for them. I don’t care how ‘new age’ it sounds, but studies have even proven that having a pet can bring about positive transformations in people that have been unresponsive to other therapies. Its actually been scientifically proven that our brains produce dopamine when petting the fur of an animal.We no longer have any sense of community. Thats what I like about the Dog Park, it gives me the sense that I live in a place that maintains a little of it. Its a cold, cycnical, and selfish world we live in when people can’t see how the “good” far out weighs the “bad” in the Happy Act. In a world were we are all practically suffering some form of mental illness, it might be more effective to remendy it with a furry-friend instead of a pill. If it is made more accessible to own a pet then we can at least say this country is doing something about the declining moral within this economic crisis by promoting the possibility for people to establish the social habits we are currently lacking. The healthcare industry has profitted from us long enough, they profit from our suffering and the suffering our pets. The same pharacuetical companies that supply pills for humans , also profit by producing those same products for animals. People are creatures of higher intelligence and with that burden we have a responsibility to care and look after the general wellfare of all living things of lower intelligence, especially when we’ve domesticated these creatures and leave them with no other alternative existance. Is this country so vehemently against medical assistance of any kind and health in general, that we will do nothing to address the mired of issues that pertain to healthcare in this country?

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