Rough justice: German town seizes pet pug to plug unpaid tax debtby
A German town has come under fire for seizing a family’s pet pug to cover an unpaid tax debt, and then selling the dog on eBay.
In a case that has prompted howls of outrage from animal lovers, officials in the town of Ahlen collared pedigree pug ‘Edda’ last year after her owners failed to pay local taxes, including their dog tax.
A court bailiff and two local officials visited the former owner’s property and determined that the prize pooch was the most valuable item on the premises. Edda was then sold on e-commerce platform eBay for €750 (£650) to recover the unpaid tax.
The case recently came to light when the dog’s new owner discovered that Edda had undeclared medical issues needing extensive treatment and sought compensation for the expense – totalling about €1,800. This alerted the local media, and the confiscation is now making headlines across the country.
All dogs in Germany must be licensed and are subject to a Hundesteuer (dog tax). Most European countries moved away from pet taxation in the 20th century, with the UK formally abandoning dog licencing in 1987. But Germany has stuck by the law, possibly because of the revenue it brings in. According to The Local Germany, in Berlin alone, dog owners paid €11m in 'dog tax' in 2016.
Edda’s original owner told local newspaper Ahlener Tageblatt that her three children were still sad about the loss of their dog. However, she admitted that the officials were not barking up the wrong tree – her family had fallen behind on their tax payments.
Frank Merschhaus, a spokesperson for the city of Ahlen, told Ahlener Tageblatt that the incident would be fully investigated. The use of a private eBay account for selling a living creature would also be looked at, he said.
He added that a pet seizure had never happened before, and stressed the “emotionally challenging” nature of financial enforcement work.
In a twist to the tale, this week a spokeswoman from North Rhine-Westphalia state's interior ministry stated that while animals can be seized to pay off their owners' debts, house pets are usually exempt from such action.
The spokesperson added that impounded items should be “publicly auctioned” and not simply sold on eBay through a private account.
Following the statement, Ahlen authorities said on their website that they were prepared to call off the dogs and reverse the sale “if the parties involved are in agreement”.
Owners of other pets, including cats, are not subject to taxation. This has led to some inventive attempts to avoid paying the tax, including one man who attempted to pass off his Spanish water dog as a sheep.
Edda is also not the first canine to run into trouble with the tax authorities. A tax investigation found that former football manager Harry Redknapp’s dog Rosie had a Monaco bank account in her name (although a subsequent court case cleared Redknapp of any wrongdoing).
With thanks to Harry Ross from RossTax for advice on German tax law.