Show Me the Money: Cat Lady Takes on IRS—and Wins
Court decision emphasizes right of animal welfare volunteers, especially fosterers, to deduct expenses
Jan Van Dusen, a 59-year-old former family law attorney in Oakland, Calif., claimed more than $12,000 expenses as a charitable deduction on her 2004 tax return—money she had spent housing, feeding, and providing medical care to scores of foster cats living in her home.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said “No.”
That dispute led to years of wrangling between Van Dusen, a longtime fosterer affiliated with Fix Our Ferals and other Oakland-area nonprofit animal welfare groups, and the IRS, eventually leading to a 2009 showdown in U.S. Tax Court.
In June, Judge Richard Morrison finally ruled in her favor: The decision allowed her to take a charitable deduction for most of the expenses she incurred.
“I was just stunned. I was so shocked,” says Van Dusen, who represented herself in tax court.
The outcome came as a relief to Van Dusen, and it also has implications for volunteers around the country. The decision will affect how the IRS treats the millions of dollars in tax deductions that volunteers take each year, in order to be reimbursed for money they spend on behalf of all kinds of IRS-recognized charities.