Tax deductions in the United States exist for two significant purposes: to reward socially positive behavior (such as weatherizing a house) and to account the burdens associated with socially positive behavior (such as student loan interest). I struggle to place pet care expenses in either category.
There’s no doubt that pet owners find personal satisfaction and happiness from their animals. As the owner of a dog and two cats, I can attest to that myself. But is there social benefit to pet care? Actor Robert Davi strains to find social benefit in pet ownership:
For children, pets provide lessons in responsibility and care for other creatures. Dogs and cats have been used successfully to rehabilitate the sick and the incarcerated. Studies show that pet owners have improved cardiovascular health and immunity to diseases.
Working assistance and rehabilitation animals are of undoubtable social benefit, but they are not pets. People might gain the same cardiovascular health benefits by stopping for five minutes every day for a less-expensive cup of tea. In the meantime, pets drain resources for food and veterinary care that could be spent elsewhere. Cats kill birds. Dogs annoy walkers in the park.
This is not to say that pets aren’t nice. It’s to say that they impose a net social burden. And so it is odd that Republican Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan would propose H.R. 3501, a bill to add a tax deduction for pet care expenses. H.R. 3501 would encourage Americans to lavish more more on pet care — more kittycat sweaters, more chemotherapy for aged or overbred canines — at a time when there is less money to attend to human needs. The move by Rep. McCotter may be strategically astute, firming up support among the cat ladies, but from a policy standpoint it just doesn’t fit.