Service animals can help in more ways than one

October 05, 2018 : Sharita Hutton

Gia the superhero

Eight-year old Bo Macan looks like any other third grader. His favorite superhero is the Black Panther, favorite movie Spiderman, and his living room is full of Legos and toy cars.

But Bo has so much more going on in his little body than the eye can see.

“He has type one diabetes, growth hormone deficiency, chronic lung disease, and epilepsy,” said Carolyn Macan, Bo’s mother. “He has had, like, 58 surgeries, three ports and he sports a lot of medical equipment.”

A couple of years ago, the Macan family added a new member to the family, Gia.

“She can alert us if his blood sugar is dropping or if it is too high,” said Macan. “One of our biggest things is night alerting. When a diabetic goes to bed there are no signs when their blood sugar is changing and that is when Gia will come in my room and alert me.”

If you ask Bo about his four-legged friend he simply will say, “She is a superhero.” And the Macan family sees her the same way; a vital extension to their family. But at tax time, the family says they have never thought of how Gia could play a factor.

“Service animals can be deducted come tax time as a medical expense,” said Lynn Ebel, a tax attorney with the Tax Institute at H&R Block. “You want to make sure that you have all the necessary paperwork. That includes certification that the pet is actually a service animal, a diagnosis of the medical care needed and verification that this pet actually benefits you and your symptoms.”

And it turns out that it’s not just support pets that can qualify.

Emotional support animal may qualify for tax deduction

Some have made unusual choices when it comes to selecting an emotional support animal.  There was the man in Florida who fought to keep a squirrel who he said helped him with post-traumatic stress following a car accident.

Others have tried to take animals like ducks, turkeys and pigs on flights, saying they all are emotional support animals.

Unusual, but not unheard of.

“It doesn’t matter the animal,” said Ebel. “It all depends on if there is a diagnosis and whether this animal has been identified to help someone through their symptoms of illness.”

With that said, it is on a case-by-case basis. Owners of emotional support animals will still need the same paperwork and verification of those service animals.

Claiming the service animal tax deduction at tax time

So, what can the owner of a service animal or emotional pet write off?

According to Ebel it’s not just the purchase price of the pet, but vet bills, grooming, food, and much more.

“To take medical expenses for a service pet you need to make sure you are itemizing,” said Ebel. “Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the standard deduction has almost doubled so people who used to itemize last year may find out this year they cannot.”

In addition, only medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income may be deducted. That threshold rises to 10 percent in 2019.

But with that said, it’s worth looking into.

For the Macans, and other families who have never claimed their pets at tax time, there is still a chance to make sure they did not miss out on anything.

The IRS allows taxpayers three years to file or amend a return to claim a refund. With H&R Block’s free Second Look, taxpayers can have their previously filed returns from 2015, 2016 and 2017 reviewed to see if they made any mistakes that left money on the table. Taxpayers can see if a Second Look is right for them with a free online assessment and schedule an appointment online or by calling 1-800-HRBLOCK.

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Sharita Hutton

Sharita Hutton

Newsroom Anchor

Sharita Hutton started at H&R Block for tax season 2013 and serves as lead anchor for the H&R Block newsroom. Before joining H&R Block, Hutton was a local broadcast reporter and anchor for several of Kansas City’s news channels. A former college basketball player, Hutton loves spending time coaching her two children in all of their athletic endeavors.

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