King George III (1760-1820)
A Tax on Companionship : William Windham MP was appalled at the idea of levying a tax on man’s best friend.
A Tax on Companionship

Abridged from ‘Select speeches of the Rt Hon. William Windham and the Rt Hon. William Huskisson’ (1841), ed. Robert Walsh.

In 1796, a proposal went before Parliament to tax dogs, partly as a rebuke to rich sportsmen, and partly because it was felt that the poor were frittering away their income support on dog-food. Windham was not much bothered about the rich sportsmen, but he leapt to the defence of the poor man and his lurcher.

IT was unworthy [said Mr Windham] of this or any other country, to levy a rate on any animal, because that animal was not employed in tilling ground, or because the poor might feed on dogs’ provisions.* It appeared as if there was not room enough on earth for men and dogs.

Some dogs are retained by the poor as implements of trade, and the Legislature ought not to tax the industry, but the expenditure, of the people. Some were retained for their companionable qualities; if the rich man feels a partiality for a dog, what must a poor man do, who has so few amusements? A dog is a companion of his laborious hours; and when he is bereft of his wife and children, fills up the dreary vacuity.

It would be cruel and impolitic to pass such a law; it is a sort of law, from which every man would revolt. The dog is a companion to a solitary man, and to a man with a family a play-fellow for his children.*

* That is, because the poor were spending money on feeding their dogs instead of themselves. Windham pointed out, first, that the food given to dogs was not generally fit for human consumption, and had to be disposed of somehow; second, that such sacrifices were a testimony to man’s affection for his pets; and third, that if dogs were taxed, people wouldn’t abandon their pets, they would register for income support.

* The Bill was thrown out ‘without a division’, i.e. without even bothering to take a formal vote. It was opposed also by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger (PM from 1873-1801).

Abridged from ‘Select speeches of the Rt Hon. William Windham and the Rt Hon. William Huskisson’ (1841), ed. Robert Walsh.

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Picture: Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873), Victroia and Albert Museum, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
‘The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner’, by Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873). As Windham said, “with the poor, the affection for a dog was so natural, that in poetry and painting it had been constantly recorded, and in any sort of domestic representation, we scarcely see a picture without a memorial of this attachment.”
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