Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Tax on Dogs

by Grace Elliot

In 1796 a seemingly innocuous piece of tax legislation caused uproar in England. The new law provoked a debate about the very nature of the human spirit and whether owning a dog was a right or a luxury.
Was it a right or a luxury to own a dog?
At the end of the 18th century the English government was desperate for money to finance the on-going war with France. One way of raising the necessary cash was taxation. Tax was raised on everything from soap, to tea, tobacco, windows and lace – and indeed it didn’t stop there. Servants were a taxable asset under the auspices of the Male Servants’ Tax bill 1777- 1852 and the Female Servant’s Tax bill  1795 – 1852, but fortunately (or unfortunately?) wives and children were not taxable assets!. There was a Horse Tax (for owners of carriages and saddle horses), a Farm Horse Tax (for horses and mules used in trade) – but none of these taxes created quite the same stir as the imposition of the Dog Tax in 1796.

The crux of the disquiet lay in the very English relationship between man and dog. It raised a serious debate about whether having a dog was a luxury or a natural part of being human. The tax tapped into questions about the emotional bond between the two. By putting a tax on dogs it implied a shift in relationship from one of nurturing and caring, to servility and subordination – and dog owners were enraged. To many this was tantamount to taxing spouses and children, and people weren’t happy. This wasn’t about the financial aspect of the tax, but the moral implication and feelings ran high.

Those that supported the bill pointed out that pet dogs were a luxury, and consumed food that could have been better used to feed the poor. Opponents argued back that to need things beyond the essential – such as a dog – was a distinctly human trait. These people considered pets to be their friends, and putting a tax on them turned the language of friendship to that of slavery and service.

Interestingly, the idea behind the dog tax may have originated in France (the very country the English needed to raise funds to fight!) In 1770 a French census suggested a population of four million dogs –an arthimetric extrapolation of the amount of food they consumed was equivalent to feeding a sixth of the population. The French dog tax was proposed to discourage dog ownership, as a means of disease control and to increase food availability.

A rabid dog in a coffee shop.
It was diseases such as rabies that the French tax was aimed at controlling.
French authorities also insisted dogs belonging to the poor spread disease – especially rabies. This was considered a disease of dirty and hungry dogs, so poor labourers who – “Can scarcely feed themselves” should be discouraged from owning dogs by means of a tax. The difference between France and England was that in the former the tax remained as a proposition, whereas in the later it was acted upon. 
Whatever the moral argument the English government won in the end – the Dog Tax was imposed and stayed in place until 1882.


Click for a link to 'Fall in Love with History'.

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is passionate about history, romance and cats! She is housekeeping staff to five cats, two sons, one husband and a bearded dragon (not necessarily listed in order of importance). Verity’s Lie is Grace’s fourth novel.

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  1. Thank you for an interesting post. And we think we have tax problems!!!! A while ago (in South Africa where I live) an idea was tossed about raising a 'registration fee' (aka tax!) on more than 2 dogs. Hue and outcry ensued and it died a natural death.

    1. When I was growing up I remember going with my mum to the Post Office to buy a dog license - it was only a few pence. This was more about registering dogs that taxation - but why exactly dogs needed to be registered in the days before identichips and a means of confirming their identity - I have no idea.
      From your comment it seems a dog tax is still an emotive idea!

    2. Seven shillings and sixpence, if I remember rightly. Just showing my age ;)

  2. And in Yucca Valley we have a new dog park. It is open dawn to dusk, and provides running and play areas for socialized dogs. Children under 12 are not allowed in the dog area. There is a nice play ground in a separate section of the park. owners must be present--no 'latch key puppies..and everybody brings his or her own clean up materials. And of course, it is publicly funded with tax dollars, so now the dogdies are getting their revenge.

    1. What an interesting concept - a dog park that children stay out of! I need to think about the implications of that. But as you say, the dog has his day in the end!
      Thank you for leaving a comment, Linda.

  3. Interesting post. Shared!

  4. thank you, glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing. Grace x

  5. Wow! I didn't know this but am not surprised. We still pay a yearly tax on all dogs in Utah. We're also limited to just two...but we could have 12 kids a piece and not be able to support them. It's very messed up and I don't agree with it. Great article!

  6. Dog tax records survive for Scotland and have been digitised at See e.g.


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