Taxing of Dogs in the eighteenth-century

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, those pesky Georgians struck again with their diverse ways of taxing people.  We have previously looked at a whole range of taxes from hair powder tax and window tax that were implemented during the 1700s, but we came across a tax which appears to have proposed from much earlier than we had thought – the dog tax.

A Gentleman Out Shooting with Two Setters by John Francis Sartorius
A Gentleman Out Shooting with Two Setters by John Francis Sartorius; Walker Art Gallery

This was initially proposed in 1758, along with, interestingly, a bachelor tax which was a tax on bachelors aged over 25 and widowers under 50 having no children.

A Setter in a Landscape by Thomas Gainsborough
A Setter in a Landscape by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Petworth House

Returning to the dog tax, in our research, we have never come across an Act of Parliament that has been so divisive nor taken Parliament quite so long to pass – nearly forty years!! Parliament simply could not agree on the best way to implement it.

Muff, a Black and White Dog by John Wootton
Muff, a Black and White Dog by John Wootton; Tate

Initially, the plan was relatively simple.

A tax for one dog of 1 shilling, for two dogs 5 shillings and for every dog between two and ten 5 shillings each. Between twenty and forty – £10 and for more than forty – £20.

Clearly this was an extremely unpopular option and eventually, after four years of debate, the whole concept was dropped in favour of a horse tax.

However, it reared its head again in the 1782 budget which said that there was to be:

An annual tax of ten guineas on every pack of hounds and five shillings for every other game dog.

Maria, from Sterne by Joseph Wright of Derby
Maria, from Sterne by Joseph Wright of Derby; Ferens Art Gallery

This bill took a further two years to be passed by Cabinet and to then be heard in Parliament by which time they had firmed up the actual tax, which of course had increased and was more specific. It is interesting to note that a ‘guide dog’ was to be exempt.

The dog-tax bill, it is said, has passed in the Cabinet and we apprehend will be carried into the House at the ensuing Meeting of Parliament.

Greyhounds and Lurchers are to be paid for at the rate of twenty shilling each

Pointers and all other dogs of sport, ten shilling each

And dogs of different descriptions, such as mastiffs, lap-dogs etc five shillings each.

Blind men’s dogs should be exempted for the tax.

A person who keeps a flock of sheep, can very well afford to pay for his shepherd dog.

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier
Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier; The Bowes Museum

It all went quiet for a while as this proposal was thrown out by Parliament, as the collection of such a tax was deemed too difficult. However, feelings around the country ran high about the taxation of dogs, both for and against as can be seen in this letter to William Pitt the Younger, in March 1791.

Finally, according to the Staffordshire Advertiser of 19th March 1796, William Pitt gave his support to a dog tax. The tax of two shillings and sixpence (half a crown), was to be paid by all dog owners, with just a few exceptions.

A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff) by Francis Hayman
A Hound, a Spaniel and a Pug (A Portrait of a Mastiff) by Francis Hayman; Norfolk Museums Service

This was not the end of it, however, as the battles on either side of the argument continued, so much so that even Parliament itself commented on that fact that this proposal had been kicked around for nearly forty years – clearly, they couldn’t agree on how or if to implement it.

A simple proposal was put forward that with the exception of guide dogs that everyone who owned a dog should pay a flat tax of two shillings and sixpence, which was estimated would generate an income of £125,000 per annum.

Study of a King Charles Spaniel by Henry Bernard Chalon
Study of a King Charles Spaniel by Henry Bernard Chalon; Laing Art Gallery

But no! This option was not suitable. Goodness, how this debate dragged on, it even became so dramatic that there was talk in Parliament of possible bloodshed across the Kingdom over it! One of the main problems appears to have been the emotional attachment we have to dogs.

An Old English Terrier by John Nost Sartorius
An Old English Terrier by John Nost Sartorius; National Trust, Fenton House

Finally, we found the wording of the Act, in a newspaper dated 11th June 1796. This was nothing like keeping it simple. If it could be made complicated, then Parliament really did manage to achieve this. See what you make of it. We think it’s as clear as mud and the reference to guide dogs appears to have vanished.

DOG TAX

The words of the Act are “That from and after the 5th day of July 1796, every person who shall keep any Greyhound, Hound, Pointer, Setting Dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier or who shall keep two or more dogs, of whatever description or denomination shall be charged and assessed annually with the sum of five shillings for each Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier;

and also, for each dog, where two or more dogs shall be kept, and every person who shall inhabit any dwelling house, assessed toto any of the duties on inhabited houses, or on windows or lights, and shall keep one dog and no more, such dog not being a Greyhound, Pointer, Setting dog, Spaniel, Lurcher or Terrier, shall be charged and assessed annually, with the sum of three shillings for such dog.

There are clauses which provide, that the duty shall not extend to dogs not six months old, and that gentlemen keeping hounds may compound for any number, on paying this year fifteen pounds, and every subsequent one, twenty pounds; as it is understood only three-fourths of the tax are to be collected this year.”

It’s no wonder that people began to complain about it and try to find loopholes to avoid paying – and in this instance below – winning.  This remained in place until 1882.

A gentleman near Warwick, who keeps only one dog merely for the purpose of a house-dog, returned it as such to the Surveyor of Taxes. That return was objected to because, it was insisted, the dog, of a spaniel kind, was liable to the higher rate of duty, the same a sporting dog. The gentleman remonstrated; stating that the dog not being, in his opinion, a true sporting spaniel, but a common mongrel, did not, therefore, come within the letter of the Act of Parliament; and, at all events, not being trained nor even used for the purpose of sporting, most certainly did not fall within the spirit and meaning of the act. The remonstrance was, however, unavailing: and notice of an appeal was given. The case was heard before the Commissioners at Wellesbourne, when, without a moment’s hesitation, it was decided against the Surveyor of Taxes.

 

Sources

Leeds Intelligencer 14 March 1758

Derby Mercury 04 November 1784

Bury and Norwich Post 07 March 1792

Hampshire Chronicle 09 April 1796

Lancaster Gazette 02 March 1811

Featured Image

A Couple of Foxhounds, George Stubbs. Tate.