Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

Should Governments Tax Puppy Love?

A proposed Italian tax on "animals of affection" results in protests.

Italian politicians have learned a lesson that everyone should have already known — namely you should not mix taxes and love. To understand the context of this event you must know that Italy, like many other countries across the entire euro zone, is struggling to revive its economy and reduce its public debt.  This is a predicament which has prompted the country's lawmakers to try to dream up new revenue-raising measures. Still they should have known that no matter how bad the economic crisis is, a population can be pushed only so far.

dog dogs canine canines puppy pup cat pet Italy tax taxation
Early on Friday May 18 people awoke to hear startling news. Specifically a parliamentary commission had proposed a tax levy on pet cats and dogs to raise revenue for their debt ridden cities and towns. The surprising thing about it was that this tax was clearly proposed on the basis of the emotional bond that people have with their pets. This became clear when the wording of the proposed no tax did not say that it was on cats and dogs, but rather that the new tax was to be on domestic "animals of affection." I can think of several other countries in which people would have likely tried to get around such a levy by responding to that specific wording and simply claiming that they had no affection for the dog or cat living in their home, and therefore they should be exempt from the tax. However the Italian response was much less subtle and much more vocal.

The public outcry was instantaneous and vigorous. Within the first four hours after the announcement, one news agency had broadcast nearly 40 reports and interviews on the issue. The first people to chime in with their opinion were animal rights groups, who claimed that in this already cash strapped economy people might be forced to abandon their animals due to an inability to pay additional taxes for them. They warned that the loss of a loved dog or cat in this way would result in a deeper national depression than that which was caused current monetary crisis.

Next came a string of politicians all voicing opinions against the new proposed tax. One elected official called the idea "grotesque," another called it "idiotic," while a third called it “shameful." Members of the commission were also called in front of the microphones and the cameras to explain their actions, however not one of those interviewed admitted to authoring the proposal, or even voting for it. This caused one politician to describe the entire situation as being "surreal."

Domenico Scilipoti, a member of Parliament who stridently opposed the commission's proposal suggested that "The only thing that's left to tax are wives and children."

Things quickly threatened to get out of hand. Within hours a firebomb was thrown on the steps of Italy's tax enforcement agency Equitalia in the port city of Livorno. The press was quick to link this attack to the newly suggested tax on pets and political commentators warned that more such actions might be expected.

The vigor of the public outcry and the threat that the protest might soon turn violent was convincing to the politicians involved. Early that evening there was a new press release announcing that the commission had withdrawn the suggested tax on pets. Now every member of the commission who was interviewed later quite proudly claimed to have voted for the reversal and against the proposed levy.

Apparently the Italians are much more vociferous in their opposition to dog-related taxes than are many other countries. Compare their response to the response of the British, who reacted to a dog tax in a much more covert manner. Once again the issue was a cash poor government seeking more revenue from the population. In the early 1800s the British Parliament created a livestock tax. Farmers were to be taxed for every animal they owned. For the purposes of taxation "animals" were defined as "all beasts born with a tail longer than a man's thumb."

Farmers responded pragmatically to the letter of the law by trying to create a breed of sheep dog in which many puppies would be born with virtually no tail at all. Since genetic modifications are often slow, other methods were resorted to when puppies were not naturally born without a tail. These young pups were then subjected to having their tails docked from the first joint, down to a length never to exceed two inches. Since the tail docking was done at so young an age, the tax collectors couldn't tell whether nature or a surgeon was responsible for the dog's current condition. In the end, the tax was simply waived for this breed! The British, however, could not resist gloating a bit at their success and rubbing it in the face of their political masters. Thus they blatantly gave a new nickname to the Old English Sheep dog and it proudly became the “English Bobtail.”

 Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome

 Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

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