Makin' Money

Question: Is dog food deductible?

Frank Degen Apr 11, 2011

All this week I’ll be answering last-minute tax questions as part of Marketplace Money’s special report on tax season. The first one comes from Shaun from Burlington, Vermont:

I am a young professional in Burlington Vermont, working as an advocate for low-income individuals. About a year ago I decided to become involved in a non-profit organization that breeds and trains dogs for the visually impaired. I volunteered to take on a Labrador puppy, his name is Rawlins and have been training him to be a Seeing-Eye Dog.

The organization, Guiding Eyes For The Blind, covers veterinary bills, but I have been paying out-of-pocket for food, toys and the like and you’d be amazed at how fast a 40-pound bag of food disappears into a growing puppy!

I’ve religiously saved receipts for all such purchases and I’m curious if these can be tallied and considered a “charitable donation”, since they added value to the non-profit organization through the pup I’m raising. If this is the case, what do I have to do to claim such contributions while filing my taxes?

ANSWER: Good luck with Rawlins – I have a one-year old black lab and know the challenges that can occur!

You may deduct out-of-pocket expenses when you serve a qualified organization as a volunteer. Without getting too technical, the qualified organization must be recognized as a 501(c)(3) (IRS jargon) organization. There is a high probability that this organization is qualified but a taxpayer may determine this by looking at IRS publication 78 which lists all the qualified organizations.

Certainly all the expenses you list appear eligible as a deduction. However, there is one more hurdle you need to overcome. Charitable contributions are deductible on Schedule A (itemized deductions) of Form 1040. If you do not itemize but rather take the standard deduction, you won’t gain any benefit as a deduction. In any case, good luck with the training.

Frank Degen, EA is a self employed practitioner in Setauket (Long Island), New York. He has a Bachelors degree in mathematics from Iona College and a Masters degree from Johns Hopkins University. He became an Enrolled Agent in 1984. Degen, served a three-year term on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council (IRSAC) and was Chair in 2009.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.