LACEY TOWNSHIP — Tax seasons is a lucrative time of year for accountants and professional tax-preparation services, alike. 

But one Ocean County franchise has voluntarily opted to slash its profits in an attempt to help the increasing number of animals awaiting adoption at the Popcorn Park Zoo find a home.">Click here for a link to Popcorn Park Zoo's website.

Last month, four Liberty Tax Service franchises — in Lacey Township, Berkeley Township and two in Toms River — announced they would be giving out free tax assistance to the first 50 people who adopt a pet through the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park this tax season. Everyone after the first 50 who adopts a pet can get his or her taxes prepared at half-price.

“We love Popcorn Park. No one cares for animals better. And on a personal note, we always donate to them every year,” said Robin Tice, the marketing manager for Liberty Tax Service. “In this tough economy, people may feel discouraged from adopting a pet. We wanted to provide them a little incentive to do it because these animals that the Associated Humane Societies is caring for need a place to call home.”

Tice said Liberty Tax Service usually charges about $200 for tax-preparation assistance. The cost to adopt a pet from the Popcorn Park zoo is $160 for a mixed breed dogs and $80 for cats. The cost includes services such as spaying, neutering, microchipping and heartworm-preventative pills.

“There is absolutely no hidden costs or loop holes,” Tice said. “This is just something we felt compelled to do.”

 This generosity was well-received by Popcorn Park Zoo officials.

“This is the first time I can remember anyone doing something like this,” said Cathy Gray, the shelter manager for Popcorn Park Zoo, adding her shelter currently has hundreds of dogs, cats, rabbits and rats awaiting adoption. “We really do appreciate it and hope it helps.”

And Gray said the timing could not be better.

“We’re not handling as many adoptions as we are used to,” Gray said. “The economy might be the reason. But whatever it is, we definitely have a lot more animals here, especially for this time of year, than we’re used to.”

As of Friday, the shelter at Popcorn Park Zoo was housing about 200 cats and 70 dogs — both very high numbers for this time of year, Gray said. And this poses a problem, considering the adopting rate is dropping. Last year, only 115 cats were adopted from Popcorn Park, a drop of more than 25 percent from the 2009 total of 155.

“We usually don’t see this many cats in here until the spring, when the cats start having kittens,” Gray said of the 200 cats already at the shelter. “And we could run into a problem when spring comes this year, because we could easily run out of space.”

But even with available space dwindling and the tax-preparation program in place, Gray said her shelter will continue to be thorough when screening applicants interesting in adopting pets.

“Having a pet is a real responsibility and we want to make sure people can handle it,” Gray said. “We want our animals to find a home, but we want it to be the right home — not just someone who was looking to save some money on getting their taxes done.”

Contact Robert Spahr: