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Swiss dog tax: Pay it or your pet dies

A small town in the pacifist country has stirred up controversy by threatening to kill dogs if their owners don't fork over $48.50 a year

A village in Switzerland is taking heat after its municipal council threatened to kill dogs whose owners fail to pay a $48.50 yearly tax. The Associated Press reports that an official in Reconvilier, 100 miles from Geneva, is dredging up a century-old bylaw that allows the civic government to do just that. Unsurprisingly, pet lovers are up in arms about the draconian law, and the town is facing criticism from all corners. Here's a brief guide to the controversy:

Does the town's government really have this authority?Technically, yes. Pierre-Alain Némitz, the official who runs the council, cited a 1904 law that allows officials leeway to kill dogs as a last resort for collecting unpaid taxes. Némitz went further, penning an editorial for a Swiss newspaper in which he notes that, as recently as the 1960s, Reconvilier dealt with troublesome dogs in a brutally straightforward fashion: "We took them to a knacker's yard, shot them in the head, and it was done." (He clarified his comments in a follow-up article, insisting that the town's police force isn't even armed, and that "this isn't about exterminating all the little doggies!")

Why would the town want to enact the 1904 law?It is attempting to collect unpaid back taxes, and has identified pet owners who haven't paid the dog tax in years. Add it all up, and it's "not an inconsequential sum for a burgh whose population includes 280 dogs among 2,245 people," says Bruce Crumley at Time.

How extreme has the reaction been?Very. Némitz said "he's been overwhelmed by insults and threats" since the edict began to generate publicity last week. Meanwhile, blogs have lit up with criticism of the law's cruelty — and effectiveness. "Threatening the lives of companion animals over a $50 fee isn't the way to solve budget problems," says Stephanie Feldstein at Change.com. "It's also far more effective at damaging community relations than it is at convincing people to register their pets."

Sources: Time, Change.com, Associated Press, NPR

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