My pets are my children, please note, Mr. Taxman

Nury Vittachi

'Dear Mr. Columnist: I have six beloved offspring but they are all cats. Can I list them as dependents in my tax form?'

'Dear Cat Person: Yes, you can. If you don't mind going to jail.'

You cannot claim a tax break on pets, which is ridiculous since they cost more than humans to look after these days. In the past month, my household had two medical bills to pay: One for me for the equivalent of $7 and one for the dog for $256. This is not a joke. Like any sane person, I am deeply tempted to eat the dogs' pills and give her mine.

The good news is that it may not be long before pet owners ARE able to list their four-legged 'children' as family members. Asia is becoming pet-crazy. The day before writing this I met two couples who have pets instead of children. That's a hundred percent of the people I met. If we extrapolate these figures to the rest of the region (sorry, but as a journalist I am professionally obliged to do ridiculous things like this), that means NOBODY is having children. After one generation, Asia will be inhabited only by small white dogs called Fluffy (in east Asia, 'Fruffy'). On the plus side, this should trigger a rise in the level of intellectual discourse.

To be serious for a moment, Asia will surely follow the US, where there are already powerful campaigns to have pets recognized as children for tax purposes. Regulating claims will be tricky.

Inspector: 'You claimed an exemption for a dog. May we see the dog please?' Taxpayer: 'Er, it's gone out.' Inspector: 'Without you?' Taxpayer: It's a very independent dog.' Inspector: 'May I wait?' Taxpayer: 'Actually, it's on holiday and I don't know when it'll return. Dogs never tell you anything.'

And what happens when owners of pets other than cats and dogs start to demand exemptions? What if you have 10 hamsters or 25 performing fleas? 'Dear Tax Department, I wish to claim child benefit for the 10 million pet bacteria I keep on a furry gray pot of yoghurt in the fridge. Their names are attached.'

A person reading this article over my shoulder (GO AWAY) has just pointed out that some pets, such as guide dogs, are ALREADY tax-exempted in many countries if they are owned by someone who has a disadvantage, such as poor hearing or defective eyesight. Interesting, although I suspect that the list of recognized disadvantages will not include any of the defects sported by my family members, my colleagues and myself: brainlessness, laziness, evilness, clumsiness, smelliness, humorlessness, etc.

Now I need to stop writing this and go and take my pill. Or the dog's. After all, I paid for it.


Wanna buy a PhD? Your humble narrator got a bunch of junk emails offering fake degrees last week and deleted them. What idiot would order artificial qualifications off the net? I was mulling over this when I received a Facebook note from my former colleague Nate Thayer, the legendary reporter who tracked down Pol Pot.

Nate had just discovered two groups of individuals who regularly DO pay for fake degrees: 1) Household pets in the US; and 2) Leaders in Third World Countries, particularly in Asia.

Hanging on the wall in the North Korean mausoleum of Kim Il-Sung is a PhD from Kensington University of California, which is not a real university, but a printer of unrecognized degree certificates, Nate said. Top Cambodian politician Hun Sen has a similar degree.

Nate said that when the former chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Aslam Raisani, was confronted by reporters about his fake qualifications, he responded: 'A degree is a degree. Whether fake or genuine, it's a degree. It makes no difference.' (This statement is SO going to haunt this guy when he has to persuade his own kids to go to college.)


Meanwhile, in southern China, the Shenzhen Beautiful People Professional Abortion Clinic is advertising super-cheap abortions at just 480 yuan a time on official holidays. This seems tacky to me. 'Mummy, tell me about when I was born.' 'Well, darling Superfluetta, you're really only here because silly mummy narrowly missed the special offer period at the local clinic.'


I was going to make a joke about the horsemeat found in meatballs at IKEA, the assemble-it-yourself furniture store. But then I thought: naaaay. But in truth, my daughter always wanted a pony. So I'm going to buy her a packet of IKEA meatballs. I'll tell her: 'It's an IKEA pony. Self-assembly.'


The lowest value coins on the planet are now in Asia, a BBC survey reported last week. If you exchanged 850 Burmese pya for US currency, you'd get just one American cent.

More microscopic still is the tiyin from Uzbekistan. If your dream is to own a US one cent coin, you'd need to save up 2,000 tiyins. (And remember not to spend your one cent coin all at once.)

When I told this to a colleague, he wanted to visit Uzbekistan just to fill in a few online dating forms from there. You see, anyone in that country with a net worth of $5,000 can truthfully write: 'By the way, I am an honest-to-God billionaire.'

He pictured thousands of beautiful women throwing themselves at him before they learn (too late) that a billionaire in Uzbekistan has less money than a church mouse, a Hong Kong beggar or a Greek tycoon.


Talking of online dating sites, I was shocked to read that rich men in China are using them to find paid mistresses. The Global Times reported that a typical example was a man named Hoan who posted the usual sort of dating-site details about the woman he was looking for (must be 160 to 170 cm tall, etc), but then added that the right female 'applicant' will get a salary equal to $1,500 a month plus a car. When I told my friend Lucy about this, she said: 'That is totally disgusting. So, what type of car is it?'


Nissin, the Japanese company that makes instant noodles, is to start selling special 'survivalist' packages of cup noodles for the equivalent of $8.36 a portion. You can store them in your bomb-proof bunker and they won't go off 'for three years', the press release says. I didn't know normal cup noodles went off! I must have eaten prehistoric cup noodles loads of times. The ones in my local supermarket are covered in dust and are probably of brontosaurus flavour.


A Taiwanese firm called Polytron is working on the prototype of a transparent mobile phone, a tech website revealed last week. It looks like you are holding a piece of glass to your head. If you thought losing your mobile phone was a big problem before, wait till you get one of these.


Tip of the day: Next time your boss asks you to do something unethical, just put on a crisp, superhero voice, and say: 'No. My powers can only be used for good.'

(08.03.2013 - Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via