The selection of the "silver butterfly" man to head the Treasury Department signals that this is the time for my dog, Walter, a 110-pound black Labrador retriever, to make his Schedule C tax debut.
The case of Walter's tax deductibility as a business-related expense is so favorably one-sided that, were it not for warnings from my lawyer wife, he would long ago have been subsidized by the U.S. government, like Caribbean seninars in February and double-digit appetizers.
"IRS won't stand for it," counsel says. But my expectation is that when a prospective Treasury secretary is renowned for figuring out how to get a tax break from simultaneously buying and selling silver at the same price -- a process nicknamed the silver butterfly -- he won't object to documented dog expenses incurred in the acquisition of necessary business-related services.
It has heretofore been old hat and futile for us work-at-home self-employed to argue that a dog on the premises is, for tax purposes, identical to a for-hire security guard and that, therefore, the dog's costs ought to be as deductible as the guard's.
"May be," an accountant friend once told me, "but I don't think it'll fly down at IRS" -- a reference to the pre-butterfly IRS.
But now that the winds of change are on the way, the dog as stand-in for a Pinkerton looks like a sure bet for tax purposes, and attention should be directed to exploiting the breakthrough. In the case of Walter, no small sums are involved, for he is a lusty consumer of dog chow, snaps a steel choke collar now and then and, with visits to the vet at $15 a throw, makes a burglar alarm look cheap. Then too -- though IRS can't be socked for this -- his cunning and frequent larcenies of carelessly attended eatables add up to a considerable toll. Beyond filling the role of chief of security, the Labrador in question also performs, subtle tasks that are of great value, even if they defy precise monetary ratings. For example, a careful review of records shows a substantial decline in self-invited house guests since the dog and his peculiar habits became known around our circuit of friends and relatives.
What I am referring to is his penchant for pre-dawn visits to the guest room, the door to which he easily opens with a deft snout on knob. Though it is generally assumed that there is an immutability to the Law of Guests -- which holds that people show up to fill the beds available for their occupancy -- a 110-pound Labrador provides an impressive counterforce. For those who work at home, the economic value of this deterent is important, and therefore some r recognition of it is due when the new spirit sweeps over IRS. I don't know for sure how it might be handled, but as a starting point for discussion, how about a 5 percent credit?
Another idea that occurred to me would require a bit of legal work. So I suggested to counsel that if she had some spare time at the office that day she might incorporate the dog as Walter Labrador Security and Editorial Adviser Services, Inc. "Then you should set up an offshore charitable trust," I explained, "and we could donate him to the trust as a tax-deductable gift. Then I would rent him back with money that I borrow from you and we could deduct the interest."
Counsel said that her schedule was tight but that she'd think about it. I have no doubt, however, that if the butterfly man gets wind of this scheme, I'll be a shoo-in for assistant secretary for tax policy.
Many other possibilities exist for linking the home-base dog to tax-deductible services, but I will cite only one more:
When telephoning some eminence in the federal establishment, I find it not unusual for a steely voiced secretary to respond, "I'll see if he's in. Whom are you with, Mr. Greenberg?"
With Walter dozing at the foot of my typewriter table, I can truthfully answer, "I'm with my dog. Whom are you with?"