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My unpopular opinion? We should tax people who have pets

Go further: slap a ‘sin tax’ – like those imposed on alcohol and tobacco – on the suffusion of ‘furbabies’, writes Samuel Fishwick

Saturday 20 May 2023 16:22 BST
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Listen, I’m down with dogs. Dogs and I are cool
Listen, I’m down with dogs. Dogs and I are cool (Getty Images)

This weekend, I watched a nonplussed German shepherd being fed an ice cream topped with a dog biscuit flake.

It was a sunny day and the Pembrokeshire beachfront was heaving with dogs: dogs on leads, dogs off leads, dogs making a mess, dogs in pushchairs, dogs making a mess on pushchairs. A sea of urgent humans dashed around tidying up after them.

“There are too many dogs,” I told my friend huffily, after nearly being bowled over by a floppy, turbo-charged cockapoo. “That’s not up for debate,” she said. “I’m so glad we agree,” I said. “No,” she said. “What I mean is that you can’t argue that. People will kill you. Probably by setting their dogs on you.”

Listen, I’m down with dogs. Dogs and I are cool. I have a cat, which is basically a dog, and believe me I respect him enormously. What I am saying is that I am a friend to the animals. But there are, frankly, too many high-maintenance labradoodles, schnoodles and goldendoodles haring around, getting under my feet, and I am tired of them endearing themselves energetically to my shin.

Since the pandemic, the UK’s dog population has boomed to more than 12 million, with a third of households owning one. It’s getting worse. Who let the dogs – and everything else – out?

No one has done more for pet people – and pets – than Michael Gove, the puppyish levelling up secretary, who has nixed the blanket ban landlords have long imposed on pet ownership.

Gove, who married off his bichon frise, Snowy, in a “canine ceremony” to George Osborne’s Lola, gets it. This country is slavishly and lavishly pro-pet. It is for authoritarian despots on the other side of the world to crack down on four-legged bourgeoisie vanities. Here, we celebrate our freedoms by splashing out on dog showers, “mud rooms” and those little video cameras that allow you to spy on your cat and feed it a treat if it looks a bit forlorn.

Cats aren’t off the hook, either. The RSPB estimate that cats in the UK catch in the order of 27 million birds every spring and summer.

Tax the pets and take back control. Cats and dogs bring pleasure to their owners but they have loads of negative externalities – for example, hearing birdsong has a big impact on human happiness. Prying a blue tit out of a cat’s mouth does not.

The French levy a “noise tax” on airlines to encourage them to adopt the quietest possible aircraft and compensate those living under flight paths. I would impose a “yap tax” on pets to encourage people to adopt the quietest possible pets and compensate those who live on paths that are constantly covered in excrement.

Pricier pedigree pets – which, like a Boeing 737-400 aircraft, zoom around and make a lot of noise, and which are largely the preserve of rich people – get the big hefty tax band; say 40p for every pound of bichon frise; discounts apply for pastoral and working dogs, as well as goldfish, terrapins and the odd axelotl. Variable rates would also apply, like a congestion charge: an urban Ulez would discourage the most incontinent pets.

This is essentially a “sin tax”, like those applied to cigarettes and alcohol, because how else do you moderate one of our strangest modern indulgences. You can still feed your good boy an ice cream if you must. But in my dystopia, it’s going to cost you.

Money would be pumped into rewilding and habitat preservation. Including livestock, domestic animals and humans account for 96 per cent of the planet’s biomass. Wildlife counts for just under four per cent. It’s an unpopular opinion. It might lose me a few friends. So what? Let’s tax them too.

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