Good news for volunteers by Ed Boks

I want to share some good news from an unlikely source with all animal shelter volunteers.  In June 2011, a U.S. Tax Court brought some much-needed clarity to deducting unreimbursed expenses incurred by volunteers helping IRS-recognized charities – like local animal shelters.

The case involved Jan Van Dusen, who appeared before a Tax Court judge and a team of IRS lawyers regarding a tax deduction for caring for 70 stray cats.

The court ruled Van Dusen could deduct $12,068 for expenses incurred while caring for cats for an IRS-approved charity, Fix Our Ferals (FOF). The deductions were for cat food, veterinarian bills, kitty litter, a portion of her utility bills and other items such as paper towels and garbage bags.

The decision paved the way for volunteers to deduct unreimbursed expenses that support a charitable organization’s mission, such as fostering homeless animals.

It also clarified rules for deducting unreimbursed charitable expenses of $250 or more, especially if they involve use of a home. The decision affects donors to charities and religious groups, but not political organizations.

Prior to this ruling, tax advisers often warned clients such deductions would be challenged by the IRS. The ruling informs the taxpayer how to successfully prepare for that challenge – with records of pertinent expenses and a letter from the charity acknowledging the gift.

Van Dusen, 59, is a former family law attorney living in Oakland, Calif. She lives alone in a 1,500-square-foot home in a modest neighborhood with seven cats of her own. As a volunteer for Fix Our Ferals, whose mission is to trap, neuter and care for stray cats, Van Dusen provided foster care to over 70 feral cats.

Van Dusen tried to take the deductions on her 2004 tax return, but the IRS considered them nondeductible personal expenses. In 2009, the case wound up in court. Van Dusen knew little about tax law but represented herself because she couldn’t afford an attorney.

She said her pretrial encounters with IRS agents were “intimidating,” and she felt that in court the IRS lawyers tried to portray her “as a crazy cat lady.” However, Judge Richard Morrison demonstrated considerable patience: “He had to go through all (my) receipts from Costco and ask questions like, ‘What were these paper towels used for?'”

In his 42-page decision, Judge Morrison agreed with many of her arguments. He allowed her to deduct most of some bills and half of others for care of the feral cats, ruling they were unreimbursed expenses incurred while helping a charitable group in its mission. He curtailed the total deduction somewhat because she didn’t have a valid letter from FOF acknowledging her volunteer work for expenses over $250.

There are an estimated 11 million volunteers nationwide who work with local shelters and rescue groups, and many of these volunteers spend up to $2,000 of their own money a year to help animals in need, with some spending up to $15,000 a year.

This was the first time the court had addressed these types of expenses, and this ruling set an important precedent for the many foster-care-giving volunteers in our community. Please check with your tax adviser on the impact this ruling may have on your volunteer efforts.

The power of a STAR Program to save lives By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and the STAR Program
Ed Boks’ Special Treatment And Recovery (STAR) Program saves Sally’s life

Local shelters and rescue organizations exist to help save the lives of lost and homeless pets who have no one else to turn to.

Sally is such a case. Sally is a 3-year-old female sharpei-chow mix, although she behaves more like a giant teddy bear.  It is difficult to understand how someone could lose such a sweet animal.  Animal Control first spotted Sally running the streets in late April.  Tried as they might, she proved elusive despite what appeared to be a broken leg.

Fortunately, persistence paid off, and Sally was finally rescued on May 3 and brought to YHS.  Unfortunately, she did indeed have a broken left hind leg. Both her tibia and fibula were broken in two.  She was also badly flea-infested. The flea infestation was easily remedied.  Not so easy to remedy was her broken leg.

To save her leg, Sally required a surgical repair that included placement of a bone plate to realign the bone fragments, immobilize the fracture and allow healing.  She also had entropion – a chronic eye condition resulting from her eyelids rolling inward.  This condition can result in ulcers and even blindness if left untreated.  Corrective surgery to her eyelids was also necessary.

These medical needs qualified Sally for our STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) program.  STAR provides medical care to abused, neglected, injured and sick animals rescued by the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS).  Lost, homeless and abandoned pets with poor medical conditions tend to be dismissed as adoption candidates by many shelters even though these animals could be treated if only the funds were available.

Thanks to our STAR Program, funded by donations from generous supporters, YHS is able to provide animals like Sally the time and treatment they need to recover.  This is done with the help and support of local veterinarians and foster care families able to provide safe haven to an animal for the recovery period.

Sally was particularly fortunate in that she had two veterinary “champions” volunteering to help with her surgery.  YHS is thankful for and dependent on our veterinary partners.  Without their support, animals like Sally would have no chance at survival.  Our local veterinarians are truly every day heroes!

Sally’s surgery was successful saving her life.  She is now in foster care until her recovery is complete, at which time she will be available for adoption.

A local veterinarian’s compassion made Sally’s surgery possible.  But it would not have been possible without your donations to our STAR program.  If you want to help animals in distress, animals like Sally, please make sure your local shelter has a life-saving STAR Program you can help support.  Without a coordinated commpassionate community veterinarian partners and shelter volunteers, these animals would truly be hopeless.  By working together  your community can be among the safest communities in the nation for pets – owned, lost, and homeless.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society.


This is the ninth posting in a series of messages responding to the recommendations of a so-called “No-Kill Equation”. The “No-Kill Equation” is comprised of ten commonsense, long-standing practices embraced and implemented by LA Animal Services with remarkable results.

This analysis compares the “No-Kill Equation” to LA’s programs and practices. Today’s message focuses on the ninth recommendation of the “No-Kill Equation,” which is Volunteers.

The Ten “No-Kill Equation” Recommendations are:
1. Feral Cat TNR Program
2. High Volume/Low-Cost Spay/Neuter
3. Rescue Groups
4. Foster Care
5. Comprehensive Adoption Program
6. Pet Retention
7. Medical and Behavioral Rehabilitation
8. Public Relations/Community Involvement
9. Volunteers
10. A Compassionate Director

The No-Kill Equation is in this font.

The analsys evaluation will be in italics.

IX. Volunteers
Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers come in and make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.

In San Francisco, a community of approximately 800,000 people, volunteers spend over 110,000 hours at the shelter each year. Assuming the prevailing hourly wage, payroll taxes and benefits, it would cost the San Francisco SPCA over $1 million dollars annually to provide those services. In Tompkins County, a community of about 100,000 people, volunteers spend over 12,500 hours walking dogs, grooming cats, helping with adoptions, and doing routine but necessary office work, at a cost savings of approximately $85,000 if the SPCA were to pay for those services at the entry level hourly rate.

The purpose of a volunteer program is to help a shelter help the animals. It is crucial to have procedures and goals in mind as part of the program. In Tompkins County, for example, the agency required all dogs available for adoption to get out of kennel socialization four times per day. This could not be accomplished by staff alone and therefore volunteers were recruited, trained and scheduled for specific shifts that would allow the agency to meet those goals. It became quickly apparent that having volunteers come in whenever they wanted did not serve those goals and so all volunteers were given instructions and a specific schedule.

Ed’s Analysis:  LA Animal Services’ 1,076 active volunteers contributed over 150,500 hours in 2007 in a wide variety of tasks, including shelter clean-up, grooming, dog walking, rabbit exercising, adoption assistance and counseling, assisting staff at mobile adoptions, community information booths and special events, and other valuable tasks.

According to Independent Sector, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of approximately 575 charities, foundations, and corporate philanthropy programs, collectively representing tens of thousands of charitable groups in every state across the nation, the 2006 estimate for the value of a volunteer hour in California is $20.36 per hour. The 2007 value estimate will be released this spring.

Independent Sector calculates the hourly value of volunteer time based on the average hourly wage for all non-management, non-agriculture workers as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a 12 percent increase to estimate for fringe benefits.

Using Independent Sector’s 2006 calculation for California, LA Animal Services estimates that its volunteers conservatively donated well over three million dollars worth of volunteer service in caring for the animals in its six Animal Care Centers in 2007.

Volunteers have always been a vital and valued part of LA Animal Services’ work and the volunteer program formalized with the creation of Volunteers in Service to Animals (VSA) in the 1970s. VSA disbanded in the 1990s and was replaced by an official Department volunteer program headed by an on-staff volunteer coordinator. The overall volunteer program was reviewed during 2007 and recommendations for refinements are forthcoming. The recommendations are expected to focus on improving the volunteer experience and resolving issues that arise between volunteers and staff. A new volunteer coordinator is expected to join the staff early in 2008, filling a void that has existed for much of 2007. This addition will strengthen the program by restoring direct management oversight to a network of hard-working animal care center-based volunteer coordinators. Recruitment of new volunteers is ongoing and will be a priority for the new volunteer coordinator.