Thanks to John Ensminger, attorney and blogger of Dog Law Reporter for his help with this article.
Most people assume service animals used for the disabled are dogs. Most service animals are. But miniature horses, pot-bellied pigs and Capuchin monkeys can also be trained to assist those with hearing and seeing difficulties, mobility impairments, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other conditions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal to be “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability”. The ADA considers a service animal to be trained “regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.” 1
What animal is considered a service animal in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Code? There is no specific definition in the tax code of what a service animal is. There are service dogs, guide dogs, assistance dogs, hearing dogs, psychiatric service animals, therapy dogs, and many others.
Adopting a trained service animal to assist your child’s medical condition(s) can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It is important to prove a medical need for the service animal via a prescription from a physician, psychiatrist, or other health professional. The expenses involved must be “an essential element of the treatment and that they would not have otherwise been incurred for non-medical reasons.” 2
The medical expenses for guide dogs or other service animals (under Publication 502) are the costs of “buying, training, and maintaining a … service animal”. It also includes food, vet clinic visits, and prescription medicines.
However, the description states the assistance must be for “a visually-impaired or hearing-impaired person, or a person with other physical disabilities.” Where do mental disabilities fit in?
In May 2010, U.S. Representative John Tanner (D., Tennessee) received a letter from the Office of the Chief Counsel at the IRS. A portion of the letter states:
The costs of buying, training, and maintaining a service animal to assist an individual with mental disabilities may qualify as medical care if the taxpayer can establish that the taxpayer is using the service animal primarily for medical care to alleviate a mental defect or illness and that the taxpayer would not have paid the expenses but for the disease or illness.” 3
Assistance animal training organizations have similar requirements that may help you determine if their trained animals are service animals:
- The organization’s primary mission is to assist persons with disabilities via animals
- What certification the service animal will gain once training is complete
- The amount of hours needed to successfully train a service animal
- What happens if an animal does not pass the organization’s training process
- The terms “positive training methods”, “non-punishment techniques” or similar verbiage are used
- Information on the training location
- An estimated training cost
- An estimated cost to the future client
- Testimonials from other non-profits, government, or private business enterprises
I would be very apprehensive about an organization that claims they can train a dog into a service animal if they do not meet some or most of the recommendations above.
There are many legitimate organizations who train therapy dogs, special dogs, and similar animals starting at a few thousand dollars. However, I know from talking with various organizations that training a service animal can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Be wary of any website that sells dog vests and collars without the proper training. Mr. Ensminger notes in his blog that there have been cases of taxpayers prosecuted for taking the shortcut to certification. 4
- “Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business”, Americans with Disabilities Act. http://www.ADA.gov
- Internal Revenue Service. Jacobs v. Commissioner, 62 TC 813, 1974.
- Internal Revenue Service. Informational Letter from Associate Chief Counsel George Blaine to U.S. Representative John Tanner, INFO 2010-0129. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/10-0129.pdf
- “I.R.S. Affirms Deductibility of Psychiatric Animals”, John Ensminger. Dog Law Reporter. http://www.DogLawReports.com