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Could a Dog Improve Your Life and Tax Bill?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. We met on the Internet in 1999 and I fell for him instantly. He had the most beautiful brown eyes. Then he was just known as number 81 by the Washington D.C. Humane Society. He was a beagle and chocolate lab mix. The adoption process took a bit of time. I had only met him once, but I fought for him. He was in a short-term foster home that didn’t seem to want to give him up despite having me go through the process. Four days before Christmas I showed up unannounced and took my Buster home.

Buster was more than just a pet. He was my companion and best friend. I had him for almost nine years before he passed away last September. He suffered from a heart murmur for many years and as he got older his heart problems worsened. Any time he needed an EKG, x-ray or new medication, my wallet, heart and mind were open to the possibility that it could extend our time together. My finances took a heavy toll, but he lived a comfortable six months longer than the veterinarian predicted.

I am so thankful that I was able to take care of him until the end. It might have been too much of a financial burden for another owner. Given that there are over 80 million homes that have a dog or cat, there are millions of pets that will be in the same situation as my Buster. I recently learned that there is a proposal that can ease the financial costs of our companions.

At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I had the pleasure of meeting actor and director Robert Davi, also a fellow pet lover. We talked about our pets and he told me about a new project he’s working on with his cousin Leo Grillo, founder of D.E.L.T.A. Rescue Sanctuary. In a recent commentary for The Washington Times, Davi wrote “It has become clear to my cousin Leo and me that we should have a national debate about the ability to declare our pets as tax exemptions like any other dependent or valued property with costs.”

Last week Davi launched the website PetExemption.com in order to further a debate on the issue. Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan is working with Davi and Grillo on writing the legislation.

Each year millions of pet owners spend over $41 billion on the care of their pets. During tough economic times, a pet exemption could ease the tax burden for more than 80 million households. Davi wrote, “Currently, an estimated 500,000 Americans are able to receive a tax credit for up to $3,150 for owning gas-saving hybrid cars. Many cities and states also reward hybrid owners with access to HOV lanes and additional tax breaks. Why not allow a tax exemption for pets that would reward Americans for behavior they are already doing to improve their health and well-being?”

There is certainly more evidence that pets improve our health than evidence that driving a hybrid improves our environment. The American Heart Association reported in 2008 that in a study of 76 heart failure patients those who spent therapy time with pets experienced lower stress hormones, blood pressure, lung pressure and pulse rate when compared to those who only received human visitors.

Another study followed 48 male and female stockbrokers that took medication for high blood pressure. Half of the stockbrokers adopted a dog or cat. Those without pets had twice the stress response of those with pets. After the study many of those without a pet were so convinced by the results that they adopted a pet. In her presentation on the results to the American Heart Association, Dr. Karen Allen said, “There are lots of theories, but we honestly don’t know why pets lower blood pressure. We suspect that having something on your side, something you can always count on that is non-judgmental, psychologically creates a beneficial atmosphere.”

A study published in the British Medical Journal that spanned over several decades found similar results. Pet ownership can result in higher survival rate after a heart attack and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, children that are exposed to pets early in life have less risk of developing asthma and pet-related allergies. For the elderly, pet ownership provides companionship, independence and mobility. The Midland Life Insurance Company in Ohio even considers pet ownership as a positive factor in their screening of clients over 75.

In his article, Davi noted that millions and millions of dollars are wasted on underperforming rescue and shelter programs across the country. A pet exemption would shed light on the mental and physical health benefits to the public at large and encourage responsible pet ownership.

Some people I’ve talked to have expressed concern that an exemption would only further complicate the tax code. As conservatives, our goal is to simplify the tax code, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be legitimate exemptions. Given the numerous benefits, pet expenses certainly belong in that category.

For me, the pet exemption proposal is important because it would help ease the costs of pet ownership and ensure that more pets will have the preventative and end-of-life care that I gave to my Buster. It could also allow more people to experience the happiness and unconditional love that he gave me.

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