Can I Write Off My Dog? (And Other Strange Deductions)

Every tax season, we see countless articles about tax deductions we’re all aware of. Office supplies, work-related travel, child rearing – the list goes on and on, and unless you just became a taxpayer, it’s probably old news. Instead of rehashing the obvious, today we’ll look into some weirder and less talked about deductions you might qualify for this year.

Guard Dogs

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No – simply having a dog as a regular pet does not entitle you to a write-off. But if your dog serves an added purpose, it’s a different story. A 2006 Entrepreneur.com article explains the proper (and legal) method for deducting expenses related to your company’s guard dog. Aside from the fact that it helps “if you’re a little afraid of the animal yourself”, it’s also true that:

“…your dog most also be guarding your inventory. Another interesting tidbit: Though you can deduct expenses relating to the dog, you can’t deduct the dog itself. But you can depreciate it over its expected lifespan as determined by a local breeder. Who would’ve thought?”

Practically speaking, this means you can lawfully deduct the dog’s shots, food, kennel fees and things of that nature, but not the cost of actually purchasing the pooch. Go figure.

Seeing Eye Dogs

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The other way to parlay man’s best friend into a tax deduction is to have a dog for medical reasons. The IRS offers the following guidance to anyone who has a guide dog or other service animal:

“You can include in medical expenses the costs of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually-impaired or hearing-impaired person, or a person with other physical disabilities.”

Why you can write off the dog’s purchase price if it’s used for medical help (but not if it guards your corporate inventory) is not explained. Nevertheless, it’s a rule that you ought to be aware of when attempting to write off the costs of dog ownership on this year’s personal income tax return.

“Medically Necessary” Massages

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It’s true – thanks to a 1962 modification of the tax code, it is actually 100% legal to deduct the cost of massage treatment if your doctor deems it “medically necessary.” As MSNBC explains, this requires you to keep hard records and doctor’s notes. If audited, you will be expected to produce this paperwork as proof that your deducted massage was actually necessary.

Interestingly, the same rule applies to aqua therapy and restrictive diets like Jenny Craig – again, provided that your doctor instructed it. As with other deductions, keep in mind that excessive write-offs are likely to trigger IRS suspicion. Do not write off any form of massage treatment that you cannot easily prove was needed.

Legal Fees For Illegal Activities

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Amazingly, MSNBC also notes that you are entitled to deduct attorney’s fees – even if you’re on trial for serious crimes. Although you are obligated by law to pay taxes on income earned through illegal actions (including drug dealing, theft and bribery), the cost of hiring attorneys for your legal defense is 100% deductible from federal income taxes.

Houseboats

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Everyone knows that homeowners can deduct the interest payments on home mortgage loans. So why shouldn’t someone who lives on a boat get the same courtesy? In fact (as long as a few rules are followed) they apparently can. The New York Times real estate blog tackled this question back in 2008, consulting with New York tax lawyer Julian Block.

Block confirmed that it is indeed possible to deduct interest payments on a boat loan as long as the boat itself was pledged as security. “If the houseboat is security for the loan, the deductibility of the interest would be subject to the same rules governing the deductibility of interest for a home.” The boat must also have “all the typical amenities” of a home, such as “cooking, sleeping and sanitation facilities.”

Fines

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Need a last-minute tax deduction? Get fined for something. That was CNBC’s take in April 2010 when an NFL player got fined $30,000 for wearing a sombrero after a touchdown (and another $20,000 for flashing a dollar bill at a referee.) Though a fine like this would devastate those who aren’t earning $4.7 million per year, for this athlete, it was actually a welcome tax writeoff.

As sports tax accountant Robert Raiola told CNBC, fines are considered ordinary business expenses. The only caveat is that the fine must exceed two percent of a player’s total adjusted gross income (since the first two percent of employee business expenses are not eligible for deductions of any kind.) Anything beyond that is fair game.

Comments (29) Leave your comment

  1. I was employed in law enforcement for approx. 7 years, and am now a child protection worker for the county in which I reside. I have had clients show up on my doorstep on a few occasions, to the point that I had to have the county pull all of my personal/home information from all internet sites due to safety concerns. I have 2 dogs living in my home that serve as my alarm system and protection for myself and my children. Is there any way I can write one or both of their food and vet bills off on my taxes this year?

  2. Can I deduct massage therapy session if I am a truck driver with a bad neck and/or back? Is it necessary that I get a doctor’s note? Thanks

  3. iF A DOG SERVES AS THERAPUTICAL, FOR A MOLESTATION SURVIVOR,WHERE THE PERPETRATOR COMMITED MURDER AND THEN SUCIDE BECAUSE SHE TOLD, DOES IT QUALIFY AS A TAX WRITE OFF?
    ITS A PITBULL, AND WE HAD TO REPLACE THE FENCE TO PROTECT US AND THE NEIGHBORS DOGS.

    • Theraputical, or emotional support dogs, are not classified as service dogs, and are not covered by the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act.) Therefore it would not count for tax purposes,

      • Hi Mark
        What if I am self-employed and purchased a dog for the purpose of training it to be a therapy dog? Is this considered a write off for my business as an expense? If so, what can i write off? His purchase cost? Medical expenses? Training fees?

  4. Can I deduct my sons uniform expenses with his involvement in local Police Department Cadet program?

    • Hi Jose,
      There was only one special case which was won in court, because the taxpayers proved that the expense was “ordinary and necessary” to their business. Only expenses that can be proven to be “ordinary and necessary” for a business are tax deductible.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

    • CORBEN…
      I’M NOT SURE. I was informed the only interest one could deduct these days was mortgage.
      I was heartbroken when we couldn’t deduct int. on credit cards any longer, it’s been so long since I had a car loan.
      Lisa is best to ans. that one.

    • Hi Corben,
      Unfortunately you can’t deduct interest on an auto loan. If you used your car for your own business you could possibly deduct payments using the actual deduction method. If this is the case, TurboTax walks you through deducting your car for your business.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  5. What are the procedures for the following. My husband pastor ed a church. It was registered as a non-profit org. We (him & myself) purchased a church with a loan. The church did not make it and we closed it down and sold it. My question is what are the taxes associated with the sale. There was a small profit after paying off everything.

  6. Bonnie… Your “man” may be able to claim you as a dependent, but there are certain qualifications that must be met. In TurboTax, go to the dependent section and use the Guide Me feature. That will help you determine what’s possible.

    Bob Meighan

    VP, TurboTax

  7. LA Riddle… If you don’t owe taxes for back years, you may not have to file. However, if you paid taxes in and believe you have a refund due in those years, then hurry up and file. If you have a refund coming (and 80% of all filers get a refund), there will be no penalties imposed. Also, with the years you mentioned, there is a 3-year statute of limitations, which means you need to file within 3 years of the filing deadline. So at this point, you can still file for 2007 and later. TurboTax is still available on CD for those years.

    Bob Meighan

    VP, TurboTax

  8. i was wondering if my man can claim me sense i am on ssi and so is my son ,we live toghter for 2 years nw and still toghter . and if he can what all does he need for it etc .thank ya

  9. I didn’t file in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 but I don’t owe taxes..

    what is the best way to handle this now?

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