If you have spent time in a hospital you may have seen pets walking through the hallways en route to patient visitations. Pet visitation programs are often organized and coordinated by charities established solely for the purpose of providing pet visitation. The charities work with hospitals and other healthcare providers to offer pet visitation services to patients. Some hospitals organize their own pet visitation programs. A recent IRS ruling (PLR 201719018, May 12, 2017) concluded that a pet visitation program organized by a medical research and educational institution qualified as a charitable purpose of the institution. The institution was organized to provide oncology research and education. The institution proposed to recruit volunteers to have their pets trained, tested, and certified as therapy dogs for children and the elderly. The volunteers would need to pass a criminal background check, have appropriate insurance, and demonstrate a passion for the program. Once the volunteer owners and their dogs are admitted to the program, they will visit hospitals and nursing homes that have agreed to allow regular weekly visitations.
The IRS acknowledged that hospital patients, especially children, suffer mental and physical distress due to their illnesses and being in an unfamiliar, stressful environment. The challenges of advanced age cause the elderly to suffer distress in the form of social isolation, loneliness, and depression. The pet therapy program is designed to relive this distress by allowing hospital patients and the elderly to play with animals and interact with their handlers. In the IRS’s view, the pet therapy program furthers a charitable purpose because the goal of the program is to lessen distress, improve mental well-being, and encourage socialization.
This article is provided for general information and is not intended to be legal advice for any specific situation. If you are in need of specific advice or legal representation, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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