Wag the dog: Pooch tax more than just a source of revenue

July 25th, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

You talkin’ to me?: Sign asking apartment residents to clean up after their dogs

Like a lot of Japanese cities, Izumisano, in Osaka Prefecture, has a problem with dog doo. People aren’t properly cleaning up after their pets, and last year the city government passed an ordinance that would levy an immediate ¥1,000 fine on people who didn’t. The ordinance has gone into effect but there’s one problem: No staff to patrol and issue the summonses. So far not one fine has been levied much less collected. Obviously, the city needs to hire people to carry out the patrols, but like almost every other municipality in the country, Izumisano is short of funds, so the mayor proposed a tax on dog owners to pay for the patrol. The idea was met with overwhelming support from the citizens.

No one bothered to break this support down into people who own dogs and those who don’t, but according to the magazine Aera, these days almost any tax proposal is met with automatic opposition, even from those it doesn’t target. But everybody in Izuminosano thinks this tax is a good idea, including animal welfare groups, which would conceivably shoulder an extra financial burden if the tax is carried out unless it specifically excluded organizations such as private shelters. One such group told Aera that it’s important to enlighten people to the responsibility attendant on dog ownership, especially with regard to a dog’s impact on the environment and public sanitation. The group thinks that a dog tax would be a good way to raise such awareness, in addition to collecting money that can be used for animal welfare.

After World War II many local governments implemented a levy on dogs that was akin to a luxury tax. The purpose was simply to boost revenue and at the time only people of means kept dogs as pets. But it was too difficult to monitor and collect, and in 1982 the last local dog tax was repealed. However, dog ownership has skyrocketed in the last decade. About 7.8 percent of Japanese households have dogs, which may not sound like much, but that is only the percentage of those registered. The Japan Pet Food Association conducted a survey that found 34.2 percent of respondents who don’t have a dog say they want one. In 2011, the association estimated that there were 11.93 million pet dogs in Japan. About ¥291 billion worth of pet food was sold in 2008, and ¥303 billion in 2009. In 2010, the entire pet market was valued at ¥1.37 trillion. Dogs are a growth industry.

Even the central government is eyeing a pet tax. In 2010 the Democratic Party of Japan tax project team came up with a proposal for one. It wouldn’t be the first government to do so. Germany has had a dog tax in one form or another since 1800. If you live in a city, you have to pay the equivalent of ¥10,000 a year for each dog you own. According to a professor interviewed by Aera, the tax not only raises money for animal welfare and other pet-related activities, such as adoption of strays and rescued pets, but helps check the number of pets in the population. Hungary revived its own dog tax as a disincentive tax, the kind usually levied on things like liquor and tobacco in order to discourage their consumption. In Hungary’s case, the tax would stop people from abusing pets and keeping more dogs than they could handle humanely.

A dog tax would also help conventionalize pet ownership, something the pet industry sees as essential to expanding the market. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to pet ownership is the lack of housing that allows dogs and cats. If pet owners can be shown to be more responsible, then maybe more landlords and condominium associations will allow pets in their buildings. The web magazine Business Media reports that the average dog owner now spends about ¥15,000 a month on his or her pet. Such an investment is nothing to sniff at.

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