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Leading a dog's life in Hamburg costs twice as much - and people are growling

It now costs twice as much to lead a dog's life in Hamburg. West Germany's chief port - unlike more sentimental Berlin and the Rhineland - never was one of those places where fierce arguments raged over whether the Germans are nicer to their hounds than they are to their kids. But 240 marks ($ 90) instead of 120 marks for the 1984 license? That's going too far for many Hamburgers.

So many irate pet owners are complaining, in fact - letters have gone up from a daily 15 or 20 to 200 or 300 and the phone never stops ringing - that the poor bureaucrats in the North Hamburg Finance Office can't get through their workload. They are already said to be 46,000 licenses behind.

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Handicapped people, welfare recipients, and those whose monthly income drops below 400 marks ($140) after rent, heating, and insurance, are applying in droves for their legal exemption from fees. Burgers with a second house in the dog-cheap countryside are pretending that man's best friend doesn't really live in town for more than 45 days a year.

Others, it is suspected, are simply not registering their German shepherds and poodles and dachshunds. A new word has even entered the language since the tax doubling went into effect Jan. 1: ''black dogs.'' The allusion is to the ''black work'' of those who don't report income for taxes or ''riding black'' by those who don't pay fares on the honor-system trams.

''Black dogs'' are already bringing out an Orwellian side of society. The inevitable questionnaires (with postage-free return envelopes) have gone out not only to residents asking about their pets - but also to landlords inviting them to tattle on tenants. Thus the neologism, ''dog-snooping,'' is enriching the vocabulary.

The tabloid Bild, always eager to pluck a heartstring or two, has started a charity fund for those canines it supposes must be turned loose in the woods for monetary reasons. Hamburg, in short, is embroiled in a dog-eat-dog controversy. There hasn't been anything like it since Munich introduced the compulsory poop-scoop last year.

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