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What Tax Deduction Can I Take for Flying Rescue Dogs?


Dear Steve,

Is there a tax write off for flying pets in your personal aircraft? If so, how would you document it?




Thanks for writing in.

Like a lot of things in life, the answer is not always clear. For example, some people say, just because they find a dog transport request on a non-profit website that it classifies the trip as being eligible for a charitable deduction. That’s not always true.

One popular meeting place for pilots and dogs has an FAA opinion letter written that says the group is not a party to the non-profit requesting the transport and only a facilitator and does not provide any flight services. You can read this letter from the FAA.

So, the safest thing to do is make sure one of the entities you are flying a dog rescue mission for is a registered and active IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization who is a party to the transport.

It is my understanding that if you are renting a plane you can deduct the cost of the rental. If you own the plane you can deduct the actual costs of your flight, like fuel and oil.

The IRS said in 1993 that the following costs were deductible, “Volunteer pilots rendering gratuitous services to Foundation aid the Foundation in carrying out its exempt purpose. Therefore, expenses actually incurred by volunteers in direct connection with, and solely attributable to the performance of such services are contributions to Foundation. Accordingly, we conclude that the expenses listed above are deductible under section 170 of the Code.”

Those expenses were described as, “Volunteers will incur out-of-pocket expenses related to the demonstrations. These costs are: (1) fuel and oil for the actual flight; (2) transportation to and from the airport; (3) rental charges for a bus or van; (4) rental charges for an airplane used only for the program; (5) extra liability insurance incurred only for the program; (6) postage for mailing registration records; and (7) landing and tying down fees at a non-base home airport. Other expenses incurred by the volunteers for the youths are: (1) aeronautical educational materials; (2) meals; and (3) film and development.”

Have I confused you yet?

It gets even more complicated.

As a dog rescue pilot myself, I often fly missions where the cost of fuel alone nears $400. But if you are flying and donating only $250 of fuel and expenses then you need more to deduct the expenses.

According to the IRS, “Donors are responsible for obtaining a written acknowledgment from a charity for any single contribution of $250 or more before the donors can claim a charitable contribution on their federal income tax returns.” – Source

So let’s look at what is actually required

Again, from the IRS…

“A donor cannot claim a tax deduction for any single contribution of $250 or more unless the donor obtains a contemporaneous, written acknowledgment of the contribution from the recipient organization. An organization that does not acknowledge a contribution incurs no penalty; but, without a written acknowledgment, the donor cannot claim the tax deduction. Although it’s a donor’s responsibility to obtain a written acknowledgment, an organization can assist a donor by providing a timely, written statement containing:

  1. the name of organization
  2. the amount of cash contribution
  3. a description (but not the value) of non-cash contribution
  4. a statement that no goods or services were provided by the organization in return for the contribution, if that was the case
  5. a description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any, that an organization provided in return for the contribution
  6. a statement that goods or services, if any, that an organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits (described later in this publication), if that was the case.

It isn’t necessary to include either the donor’s Social Security number or tax identification number on the acknowledgment.

A separate acknowledgment may be provided for each single contribution of $250 or more, or one acknowledgment, such as an annual summary, may be used to substantiate several single contributions of $250 or more. There are no IRS forms for the acknowledgment.

Letters, postcards or computer-generated forms with the above information are acceptable.

An organization can provide either a paper copy of the acknowledgment to the donor, or an organization can provide the acknowledgment electronically, such as via an email addressed to the donor. A donor shouldn’t attach the acknowledgment to his or her individual income tax return, but must retain it to substantiate the contribution. Separate contributions of less than $250 will not be aggregated. An example of this could be weekly offerings to a donor’s church of less than $250 even though the donor’s annual total contributions are $250 or more.”

This section of the IRS documentation seems to best apply, in my opinion.

Unreimbursed Expenses

If a donor makes a single contribution of $250 or more in the form of unreimbursed expenses, for example, out-of-pocket transportation expenses incurred to perform donated services for an organization, then the donor must obtain a written acknowledgment from the organization containing a:


  • description of the services provided by the donor
  • statement of whether the organization provided goods or services in return for the contribution
  • description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any, that the organization provided in return for the contribution
  • statement that goods or services, if any, that the organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits (described earlier in this publication), if that was the case.In addition, a donor must maintain adequate records of the unreimbursed expenses. See Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for a description of records that will substantiate a donor’s contribution deductions.


    All of that being said, I am not a tax adviser and I would direct you to get specific advice and/or a legal opinion from a qualified tax advisor.

    The necessary receipt can be in the form on an email, as long as it contains all the required information. Receipts cannot be obtained from third-parties who are not a part of the actual rescue. Online meeting places for pilots and actual non-profit 501(c)(3) dog rescues will not qualify as a rescue.

    If you want to read even more on this subject, here is some bonus material.

    Steve Rhode
    Dog Rescue Pilot

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