It was announced recently that the dog licence, long thought to be dead and buried, is to return, zombie-like, from the grave.
Last seen on these shores in 1987, it cost just 37p, which was reasonable even though the country was in the wizened, claw-like grip of Thatcherism and it was a widely believed fact that life for a typical working class family plumbed the depths of poverty typical of the bleakest episode of Boys from the Blackstuff.
However, the price hinted for the mooted new licence has skyrocketed to over £20. The idea of reintroducing the licence has met with approval from the RSPCA, who conducted a report on the matter.
According to them, a licence fee for as ‘little’ as £21.50 per year will help to cut down on the number of stray dogs on the UK’s streets, and help to do something about dog breeders acting in an irresponsible manner.
The study, named ‘Improving Dog Ownership – The Economic Case For Dog Licensing’, estimates that the re-introduction of the license could deliver a vast pot of money to improve the welfare of our dogs. Justifying the licence by comparing it to buying a bar of chocolate a week – roughly 42p – they predict it could bring in over £107 million for the estimated 10 million dogs in the UK. Even if only three quarters of dog owners complied and bought a license, it would mean around £14.50 for each dog.
Ah, compliance. There’s the rub.
Up to now, there are no exact details on how a licence would be enforced. Would the Police have the burden of stopping dog walkers out with their pet on an evening stroll and ask to see their papers, in the same way that a Nazi soldier would confront a suspected English spy in a World War II film? Alternatively, would there be battalions of uniformed officers prowling the streets, itching to write a ticket for a non complying dog owner in the manner of a traffic warden?
In all likelihood, nothing of the sort would happen. The logistics of something like this, and therefore the cost, means that it’s not financially viable. The knock on effect would be that a high proportion of owners would simply not pay, and those that do would feel an understandable sense of injustice. After all, why should responsible owners pay for dogs that will be mistreated by irresponsible owners who don’t pay for a dog license in the first place?
The case for the re-introduction for the dog licence has been fuelled by figures on the continent. In Europe, 23 countries have a registration scheme, and the Netherlands, Slovenia and Germany report that dog control has improved, along with a reduction in the number of strays, with a compliance rate over 50%.
David Bowles, Director of Communication for the RSPCA, commented:
“In countries which have a dog licence it is seen not as a tax, but as an important part of owning a dog. In Britain we know that a dog licence is welcomed by two out of every three dog owner, more than 70 per cent of who are happy to pay more than £30 for the pleasure and responsibility of owning a dog,”
However, the Chief Executive of the biggest welfare charity for dogs in the UK, the Dogs Trust, demonstrates the old adage that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Clarissa Baldwin, in response to the proposals, points out that a dog licence is a requirement in Northern Island and, although it only costs £5 per year, only a third of owners possess one. It has more stray dogs per head of population than anywhere else in Britain, and the number of animals destroyed represents 34% of the total figure for the UK.
“Dogs Trust is adamant that a return to the dog licence would provide no welfare benefit to dogs. Dog licensing is little more than a punitive tax on responsible dog owners who already contribute estimated £451 million to the public purse through dog related tax resources.
“Dogs Trust recommends that a system of compulsory microchipping, linking dog to owner, is effective in returning stray and stolen dogs to their owners and which would improve the traceability of battery farmed dogs.”
Until more details emerge of the plans, many dog owners will view the plans for a dog license as unwise, unfair and unworkable.