The Volokh Conspiracy

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The PAWS Act: A Warmer, Fuzzier IRS

A pet proposal to encourage pet adoptions.


Today is #NationalAdoptAShelterPetDay, so I thought I'd post my own pet proposal for the tax code: a deduction for adopting shelter pets. Right now, many animal shelters are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, a category that includes corporations or foundations "organized and operated exclusively . . . for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals." In other words, if dogs or cats are kept in a shelter, the government won't tax the donations that keep them fed and cared for.

But as soon as those dogs or cats are adopted and go home, the government's help ends. That doesn't make much sense, because adoption and home life are much better ways of preventing cruelty than keeping the same animals in shelters forever. And while adopting a pet isn't purely self-sacrificing—just look at them!—it still performs a service to the pets themselves and to society at large, which the government ought to encourage. (People also love their adopted children, but they still perform a great service by adopting them, which is why the tax code supports adoptions as well as foster homes.)

So my proposal is to amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide a deduction for the ordinary and necessary expenses of caring for a pet adopted from a 501(c)(3)-qualifying shelter. (The deduction could be capped at some predetermined limit, perhaps based on an IRS estimate of the national average.)

Because it would only apply to charitable shelters, the deduction wouldn't encourage "puppy mills" or breeding for sale. And because it only reduces, rather than eliminates, the expenses of caring for a pet, it wouldn't be a money-maker for animal hoarders. Instead, it would simply take the support we already give to shelter pets and extend just as much incentive to get them out of the shelters and into loving homes.

Best of all, the proposal has a perfect cringe-inducing and Congress-ready acronym: the "Pet Adoption, Welfare, and Support (PAWS) Act of 2019." (Attention Hill staffers: imagine your boss's free local-news airtime for endorsing the PAWS Act from the neighborhood shelter!)

And if any of you do decide to adopt a shelter pet sometime soon, you might be lucky enough to find some like these.