A “pugmatic” solution? Family dog seized for unpaid bills in Germany

Helena Villela Sette Câmara

On December 2018, police officer Michaela Jordan bought a pug on eBay for 750 euros, or what is roughly about 850 US dollars. Although the buying and selling of animals on the platform is itself highly contested by animal rights activists, when Ms. Jordan sued the seller for fraudulent advertisement, the story behind the transaction prompted an even wider outrage and international repercussion.

As it turns out, Ms. Jordan bought Edda from the city of Ahlen, in northwestern Germany. The animal had been seized by the city for unpaid bills, including the town’s dog tax of about 90 US dollars per year. Deeming Edda, a purebred pug, as the family’s most valuable possession, the debt collector confiscated the dog and sold it online so the money would go towards the family’s outstanding debt, making what a city spokesperson considered a “pragmatic solution within the scope of his discretion.” Ahlen officials insist that the seizure was legal under German foreclosure laws, but since then, have had to reassure the 57,000 people members of the community that seizing family pets is not a common solution and that owners who pay their dogs taxes should not be apprehensive after the incident.

This episode only came to light after Ms. Jordan sued the city of Ahlen for fraudulent advertisement. Initially skeptical about the animal’s low price, Ms. Jordan claims that the city had described Edda to be in good health. To make matters even more questionable, the city official that seized it used a private eBay account to list the dog. One week after the purchase, the pug started developing an eye condition and has since undergone four operations, resulting in over 2,000 US dollars in veterinary expenses for the new owner, who is not only demanding full reimbursement for the aforementioned bills, but also for the original cost of the pug.

In a statement to ABC News,Lea Schmitz, the spokesperson for the German Animal Welfare Federation criticized the cruel solution: “Animals are not objects, they are living beings and anchored in their families, in their homes.” Ms. Schmitz also mentioned how a dog’s connection to owners is strong and how dogs suffer when losing a home. It is not a complete shock that Edda developed health issues merely days after being moved out of the family home. If isolation seems to have undeniable impacts on animals, which come develop disorders deriving from it, is it that far-fetched to conclude that when animals are traumatically and suddenly removed from familiar surroundings – be it their natural habitat, or in Edda’s case, family home – their health might also suffer?

In a country that spends billions of euros in the pet industry, hopefully Edda’s case will not just serve as an ‘in your face’ example of how we treat animals as property that temporarily shocks the public opinion, but then falls into oblivion. It is interesting to see how a significant part of the outrage is centered around the pug’s previous family, which is understandable. However, the appalling reality of this case is not only limited to taking a beloved family animal away from three small children and a paraplegic father, but the uncomfortable reminder of our objectification of animals: among many other practices, we are constantly using them in commercial transactions, being taxed for ownership, and not surprisingly, seizing them to pay off debt – all of which happened to Edda, an actual living being,in a span of two months.

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