Friends visited recently after an enlightening trip to Berlin and other German cities. Curious about what enlightenment they found, I asked for details. The answer was, “For one thing, they tax dogs.” I did not know this, but, clever as I am, I asked, “How do dogs get the money to pay taxes?” “The dogs don’t pay. The owners pay,” I was told. “Ah,” I responded, “It all makes sense now.”
Apparently, Berlin and other German cities have determined that dogs generate costs that are shared by dog-owners and non-owners alike. Dog taxes are a means of getting the dog owners to pay some, or perhaps all, of these costs. The taxes can be significant—100 euros or more. Berlin, I learned, also places a higher tax on owners who have more than one dog. The tax is based on the dog’s breed. For example, a pit bull is taxed at a higher rate, than, say, a nice dachshund. (This last detail makes sense. Carried to its logical extreme, people with goldendoodles would pay no tax at all, or even get a tax credit, simply because doodles are special).
Enforcement can be brutal. One family’s dog was seized and sold on eBay to pay delinquent taxes. Another man disguised his Spanish water dog as a sheep for years to avoid the tax. Authorities enlisted a vet to make a ruling and prosecuted him.
The dog taxes collected are used for maintaining dog parks, offering free doggie bags such as the ones I use to pick up after our goldendoodle Lucca, and, of course, operating dog shelters. Add to this police calls resulting from dog bites, lost dogs, and dogs that bark too loud or at inappropriate times. Do these benefits, justify the taxes?
The dog tax generates millions of euros for German cities, funds that presumably make the city safer, cleaner and more dog friendly. So why we don’t have a dog tax?
First is the issue of tax administration—how many people would a county like Talbot need to administer the registration of dogs, catch cheaters, determine the tax due, process payments, and, well, you can imagine the rest. A particularly thorny issue is enforcement. What happens to a seized dog if the county fails to find it a new home? I don’t want to think about the answer.
“Dog taxes are not a good thing,” I told my friends, who begged to disagree. My answer appeared to anger both. This may have been the result of their having one too many glasses of German wine. “We don’t want to pay for your damn dog,” my friends, who do not have a dog, shouted. I responded by suggesting that Lucca, as well as dozens of other dogs that reside in my town of Oxford, make life better for everyone —dog-owners and non-owners alike. I noted that Lucca makes people smile regularly. I don’t charge children to pet her. Lucca offers dog therapy at no charge.
After a bit more discussion, my friends, finishing up their final glasses of wine, conceded that dog taxes are stupid. This was decided after Lucca jumped onto the sofa where the pair were seated and nestled next to them.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.