Feral Cats: The Next Stimulus Package?

According to a recent story in Forbes, many of the expenses associated with caring for feral cats are tax-deductible.

A family lawyer who devoted most of her time outside of work to caring for feral cats, 70 to 80 at one time, in her Oakland, Calif. home is entitled to much of her claimed $12,068 in cat care expenses as a charitable deduction on her 2004 income taxes, according to a recent Tax Court case. Basically, the case says that unreimbursed volunteer expenses, to the extent they are incidental to charitable work for a qualified charity and are properly substantiated, are deductible.

Adjusting for inflation, that’s $13,810.94, or about $184 per cat. Multiply that by the 60–120 million feral cats the American Bird Conservancy claims are in the U.S. [1], and we’re talking real money: $11.0–22.1 billion annually.

Voodoo Economics
Suddenly, the $17 billion “economic impact” suggested by the authors of “Feral Cats and Their Management” [2] seems decidedly less impressive. Not that it was ever credible, of course—especially given the dubious quality of several underlying assumptions. The now-mythical “estimate,” which originated with David Pimentel, Professor Emeritus at Cornell, is a mix of proofiness and careless mistakes.

None of which prevented it from making headlines around the world beginning in December of last year. Endorsements from the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy were immediate.

(For a thorough review of the $17B figure, please see Laurie Goldstein’s “17 Reasons the Economic Impact of the Domestic Cat as a Non-Native Species in the U.S. Does Not Cost $17 Billion.” Had Pimentel been half as careful as Goldstein, he might have had something worth publishing.)

Life Is Cheap(er)
Actually, $184 per cat is probably conservative.

No doubt Jan Van Dusen—because she used her home as a shelter—incurred expenses many of us do not. But she probably didn’t spend nearly as much on gasoline and other transportation-related items. And, she didn’t have to worry about cold-weather accommodations.

Then there’s the expense Van Dusen saved her community—let’s call it $6,500—for not having the cats impounded and euthanized killed. That’s based on a cost of $87 per cat, an estimate generated by the Volusia County (FL) Animal Control Advisory Board.

Combining Van Dusen’s per-cat expense with the $87 savings, and we’re up to $271 per cat. Multiply that by ABC’s 60­–120 million cats for a total of $16.3–32.5 billion annually. That’s a decent shot in the arm for an economy in trouble, and there’s no time like the present.

While we’re at it, why not a WPA-style program to put Americans to work caring for feral cats?

Absurd? Obviously.

The difference, of course, is that—unlike the authors of the UNL paper, Pimentel, ABC, and so many others—I’m not presenting my numbers as if they’re not absurd.

Literature Cited
1. Lebbin, D.J., Parr, M.J., and Fenwick, G.H., The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. 2010, London: University of Chicago Press.

2. Hildreth, A.M., Vantassel, S.M., and Hygnstrom, S.E., Feral Cats and Their Managment. 2010, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: Lincoln, NE. elkhorn.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec1781/build/ec1781.pdf