When Jan Van Dusen filed her income taxes for 2004, she probably wasn’t expecting to wait eight years to receive her refund.
But that’s exactly what happened when she tried to claim more than $12,068 in un-reimbursed expenses for feral cats she was caring for in her home.
After the Internal Revenue Service refused to accept her deductions, Van Dusen fought back — and won.
After years of being intimidated by IRS agents who treated her like a “crazy cat lady,” her case was finally reviewed in 2009, when she appeared before a judge and a group of IRS lawyers. After pleading her case, she had to wait almost two more years before finding out she’d won.
“I was stunned,” she said. “It feels great to have established this precedent.”
Big Victory All Around
This was a victory not only for Van Dusen but for animal rescue people all over the country. As volunteers, these kindhearted folks take in animals, sometimes by themselves, but most often for 501(c)3 approved nonprofit rescues. Because rescues are so underfunded, volunteers have been known to pay vet, food and supply expenses themselves, which rescues aren’t always able to reimburse.
Van Dusen, 59, works with Fix Our Ferals, a rescue that traps, alters and vaccinates feral cats, usually returning them to their colonies to live out the rest of their lives. But she must have had a magic touch, because she was able to domesticate 70 cats, which she cared for in her Bay Area home. That’s no small feat!
Although the judge didn’t reward her with the entire deduction, he allowed most of it, including expenses for food, vet bills, cat litter, utility bills and cleaning supplies.
Thousands of rescues in the United States have stood to benefit from the outcome of Van Dusen v. Commissioner [PDF]. As someone who does rescue for a qualified nonprofit, I think it will be nice to be able to legally deduct my expenses on our taxes. Last year alone, I spent almost $10,000 on rescue expenses!
The photo here is of one of my rescues, Fozzie. We spent more than $1,200 vetting 10-year-old Fozzie, who came from the shelter very ill and with advanced dental disease. Do I regret it? No way! Fozzie is the deserved the wonderful life he has now, and he thanks us every day with sweet kisses.
But like Van Dusen, even if I didn’t receive a deduction for these expenses, I wouldn’t give up working with animals.
“If it came down to helping a cat with a medical problem or saving for retirement,” said Van Dusen, “I would spend on the cat’s care — as will a lot of rescue workers.”