New Hampshire Dog Licenses ~ WTF?

It’s interesting what you get when you mix a fair amount of ‘disinterest’ in being remotely ‘aware’, with a good amount of apathy and couple it with government’s natural tendency to overstep its ‘lawful’ authority and its law enforcement’s utter disregard for acknowledging what the ‘written law’ actually says in their pursuit of applying their ‘authority’.

Let’s look at dog licenses.  Have you ever received a postcard from your town requesting (perhaps reminding you) that you must “license” your dog or be (I’m quoting the postcard) in “violation of RSA 466:1?”

While I know that custom and tradition in America suggests that mere citizens should never question the ‘Authorities’ (we sheep should simply obey) I’m just cynical enough to ponder the fairness of my having to pay fees to own my pets while the family down the street with three cats or the man down the street with three goats or the woman down the street with three horses don’t have to license their pets.

Having a bit of anarchy in my blood, I actually looked up the “Law”  ( to see what it said and for your edification, I quote the New Hampshire RSA below for your consideration: Licensing of Dogs Section 466:1

Procuring License; Tag. -Every owner or keeper of a dog 4 months old and over shall annually, cause it to be registered, numbered, described, and licensed for one year in the office of the clerk of the city or town in which the dog is kept, and shall cause it to wear around its neck a collar to which shall be attached a metal tag with the following information thereon: the name of the city or town, year of issue of license and its registered number. The tag and license shall be furnished by the clerk at the expense of the city or town. Regardless of when the license is obtained, the license shall be effective form May 1 of each year to April 30 of the subsequent year. Source. 1891, 60:1. 1925, 96:1. PL 150:6. RL 180:6. RSA 466:1. 1957, 217:1. 1995, 298:1, eff. Jan. 1, 1996. 1996, 67:1, eff. Jan. 1, 1997. 1997, 273:1, eff. Jan. 1, 1998.

Interestingly the post card from the town refers to paying “license fees” as something, no doubt, a responsible citizen (dog owner) should do. Oddly enough, this dumb Irish lad sees nothing in the referenced statute articulated by the town and written by the state, indicating I had to pay a “fee”, nor, am I guessing, did you? Rather, I see clearly referenced in the statute that (and again, I quote directly) “The tag and license shall be furnished by the clerk at the expense of the city or town.

Before I get into the legalistic nonsense of the misapplication of ‘466:1’ it might help if the reader had a clear understanding of the legal concept of a “license” which is defined as:
A legal document giving official permission to do something
The act of giving a formal (usually written) authorization
freedom to deviate deliberately from normally applicable rules or practice

Why do you need the State’s “official permission” to own a dog when your neighbors don’t need official permission to own their cats, horses, goats or birds?  Why do you need “formal authorization” from the State for your ‘pet’ when your neighbors don’t?  Just how are you “deviating” from anything by owning your pet any more than your neighbors who own theirs such that you’re liable to a financial penalty while they are not?

Ponder for a moment that Article 2 of New Hampshire’s Constitution – specifically guaranteeing us the Right to “acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property” as well as “Equality of rights under the law”.  Would the State argue that our own Article 90 of New Hampshire’s Constitution states that the laws of our State remain in full force “except where repugnant to the rights and liberties contained in this constitution” doesn’t apply to “pets”?  If not, then why, I wonder, are we dog owners being treated differently than the people with three cats, the man with three goats or the woman with three horses?  Acquiring their animals is a Right under our Constitution however when any of us acquire a dog we’re (apparently) “deviating deliberately” from normal practice and must beg “formal authorization” and “official permission” and pay a fee/tax to keep our chosen pet even thought humans have kept pets since they lived in caves.   

Just how obviously absurd would this be if we were applying the same criteria to property taxes versus dog licenses wherein they taxed everyone with a two story home while charging no property taxes to anyone who’s taste ran to a double wide or a three story home? Would such a tax be construed as being ‘equally’ applied to the state’s property owners? Would I be expected to pay my fair share of property taxes without argument while my neighbors were not asked to shoulder an equal burden because they preferred a ranch style home? Perhaps only smokers of Marlboro cigarettes should have to pay State excise taxes on this product while Camel & Winston smokers get a pass on the tax or only beer drinkers be taxed on their drink of choice while those who prefer single malt scotch or Chardonnay not be taxed on their libation? These comparisons reflect the absurdity of the ‘application’ of this statute and its discriminatory enforcement within the State.  Or, perhaps, someone would like to explain how this is “fair”.

Leaving aside the discriminatory “application” of this statute, lets delve into another judicial doctrine used by the courts, when interpreting any Law’s illegitimacy, know as the “void for vagueness” doctrine.  Simply put, if you’re confused by how it’s written then that’s one of the problems with the statute.  The Federal Court of Appeals summarizes this doctrine as follows: “A law is void for vagueness if persons of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application . . . .  So, if you perceive the wording above to mean the town has to cover the cost of the license yet town officials claim to believe the opposite then it’s because the statute was written vaguely and, according to judicial doctrine, it’s void for vagueness! 

The fact is that you’ve been paying “fees” for tags that, by LAW (go ahead, read the statute again), are to be “furnished by the clerk at the expense of the city or town” for the simple reason that it’s become ‘custom’, over the years, that the towns interpret this statute to mean you must cover the expense of the tag (damn convenient, eh?) when the Law says they must.

Interestingly, the United States Supreme Court ruled (in Murdock v. Pennsylvania) that “No State shall convert a liberty into a privilege, license it, and charge a fee therefore.  In Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham Alabama the Supreme Court ruled that “If the State converts a right (liberty) into a privilege, the citizen can ignore the license and fee and engage in the right (liberty) with impunity.  Both these decision seem to indicate that New Hampshire’s statute (RSA 466:1) is attempting to convert a liberty into a privilege; to, indeed, license, tax and charge a fee for a Right protected under Article 2 of New Hampshire’s Constitution.

One might also ponder if a State should be able to (legally) discriminate against one group of its citizens by taxing them for the same behavior (a Right) as another group of its citizens not subject to the tax? Once upon a time, southern states used to tax black citizens to vote in elections while giving whites citizens a pass on the tax. The Supreme Court found it unconstitutional and illegal to do so. In the present instance to force one group of Citizens (dog owners) to ask permission of the state and be charged a tax while other Citizens (owning different species of pets) are not equally having their property rights affected, is discriminatory and presumably unconstitutional.  Why does no one bitch?

The unenlightened might make a knee-jerk response that the state has the authority to force compliance with this discriminatory tax scheme because of the health risk of rabies.  (good intentions)  Bullshit.  The fact is that the CDC says that rabies can be carried by all domestic animals such as horses, cows, pigs, sheep and goats as well as dogs and cats.  Indeed, the CDC says that cats have rabies about three times as often as any other domestic animal.  So if all these domestic animals (pets) can get, carry and transfer rabies, why is it that I, as a dog owner, am the only pet/livestock owner being charged a fee and forced to “license” my animal while others don’t?

So, in the case of New Hampshire’s dog licensing scheme, we start with the goofy premise that, unlike everyone else in New Hampshire, who’s guaranteed, under Article 2 of New Hampshire’s Constitution, the Right to “acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property”, the unfortunate dog owner has no such Right like their fellow Citizens because, unlike their peers (the owner of any other animal), a dog owner needs to ask the state’s “official permission” or get “formal authorization” to own their animal (seek a ‘license’) while their neighbors don’t need such “permission” or “authorization” (license) for their animals.  Then we proceed with further goofiness wherein the Law is written, ordering that the license is to be furnished “at the expense of the city or town” but the cities and towns, in their dystopian reading of the RSA, the towns ‘interpret this’ to mean that the licenses will be furnished at the expense of the dog owner.  The very fact that the towns act as though they are unclear at who’s expense the license will will be provided, means that the law itself is void for vagueness.

I’m sure some will just roll their eyes and say to “pay the damn fee – it’s the law” but if the federal courts say that states can’t convert a Right into a privilege and charge a fee for it, why the hell should anyone roll over for a law that’s illegal and unconstitutional on so many levels? 

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2 Responses to New Hampshire Dog Licenses ~ WTF?

  1. James Brennan says:

    Because it’s for your safety and the safety of others. Think of the children. I’ve always wondered about that.

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