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FAMILY

Six things to know about adopting a dog in Germany

Germany is a nation of dog lovers - many of whom choose to get their pooch from a shelter rather than a breeder. If you're dreaming of adopting a pup of your own, here are six things to bear in mind.

A woman cuddles her adopted dog
A woman cuddles her adopted dog. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/MDR/Alexander Friederici | MDR/Alexander Friederici

1. You’ll have to prove yourself to the animal shelter

Don’t expect to simply window-shop for a dog and come home with it the next day. To really get to know your future animal-companion, the shelter may require several visits – especially with more nervous dogs that take a while to warm up to strangers.

You should also expect a house visit so that the rescue centre can assess whether your living space would be safe and spacious enough for the dog in question. Rescue centres often give details of the kind of environment they’re looking for in the description of the animal so potential owners can see if they can offer the pup the home it needs. 

Along with assessments of your house or flat, you may be asked questions about your working habits, living arrangements, plans for the future and experience with dogs or that particular breed of dog. This is to ensure that your lifestyle will be a good fit for your new pet and to minimise the chance of you having to give the animal back in the future. 

2. You may need permission from your landlord 

Tenancy laws can differ from place to place, but the general rule of thumb when getting a dog is that you’ll need to ask your landlord for permission first. 

They will have to give a good reason for saying no, but a lot may depend on the breed and size of the dog and the likelihood of noise complaints. For a full rundown of what renters should know about keeping pets, check out the below article:

Renting in Germany: What you need to know about keeping pets

3. It doesn’t have to cost the world…

You may feel like there are financial barriers to adopting a pet, but the biggest and most well-funded animal shelters in Germany try to make this less of an issue. Tierheim Berlin, for example, generally covers the cost of medication and medical treatment for elderly animals that are adopted, and you can also get free food for the dog if you pick it up yourself. However, there may be a small adoption fee to pay first.

Check with the animal shelter to see what ongoing costs they’re willing to cover – and how high their adoption fees are. 

READ ALSO: Furry friends help Germans ease pandemic blues

4. … but be prepared for additional taxes 

If you’re getting a dog, remember that you will need to register it at your local Bürgeramt and that it will also be subject to “dog tax” (Hundesteuer). The amount of this tax varies from state to state, and could be anywhere from €90 in Hamburg to €186 in Rhineland-Palatinate. The aim of this tax is to prevent people getting too many dogs, so the amount goes up for every additional dog you get. 

Some states provide relief from dog tax if you get your dog from a rescue home. In Berlin, for example, you won’t have to pay dog tax for the first five years. 

To see how high the current dog tax is across different states, check out this helpful chart.

Adorable mongrel Leo hangs out at an animal shelter in Hamburg

Adorable mongrel Leo hangs out at an animal shelter in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

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5. Insurance can be handy (and may be mandatory)

In Germany, you’re held legally accountable for any mischief your dog gets up to, so if you haven’t already, it may be advisable to get personal liability insurance. In states such as Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Thuringia and Berlin, this insurance is mandatory, while in North Rhine-Westphalia, it is mandatory for anyone with an animal larger than 40cm.

You may also want to take out pet insurance for any unforeseen costs such as hefty veterinary bills. 

6. You shouldn’t give up on the first go

It’s important to understand is that, even if it doesn’t look like it, there’s likely to be a suitable pup at the shelter for you. It can be easy to overlook an animal that may actually have the perfect personality traits and needs for your lifestyle and home environment, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there! 

The best way to find out is to build a relationship with the shelter and show that you’re a reliable and dedicated person. You could even volunteer as a dog walker – but since this is Germany, you may need a special dog walkers’ licence first.

Once they know your circumstances, they may recommend a dog they think would be happy to live with you – so don’t give up right away just because you don’t live in a sprawling ranch in the countryside or have a PhD in Dog Psychology. 

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MONEY

Why large families are set to pay less for German care insurance

Germany's highest court has issued a landmark ruling stating that families with lots of children should ultimately pay less for their social security. Here's what you need to know.

Why large families are set to pay less for German care insurance

What’s going on? 

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that parents with more than one child should pay a reduced rate of care insurance compared to people with fewer children – or those with none at all.

The case had been brought by 376 families in a campaign called Elternklage (Parents’ Complaint), who were supported by the Family Federation of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Freiburg. The families had argued that the amount of health insurance, pension insurance and care insurance they pay should be directly linked to the number of children they have.

Since raising a family costs time and money, this contribution to society should be taken into account when setting insurance rates and people with more children should pay lower contributions, the parents argued. 

What does the current law say? 

At present, Pflegeversicherung (care insurance) – a type of social security designed to fund care in old age – is already paid at different rates by parents and non-parents. Since the beginning of 2022, people without children pay 3.4 percent of their income towards social care, while parents pay 3.05 percent of their income.

The decision to have two different rates dates back to an earlier court ruling from 2001. At the time, the judges decided that charging people with children and those without the same amount of care insurance went against the Basic Law. This is because, in the view of the judge, parents pay a “generative contribution to the functioning of a pay-as-you-go social security system”, since their children pay back into the pot later in the life. The two-tiered system for people with and without children was adopted shortly afterwards.

At the same time, however, the judges ruled against a reduction in pension or health insurance contributions for parents. They said it was legitimate for the state to subsidise parents in other ways, such as through free education or topping up the pensions of people who had raised a family. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who pays the most German tax and who benefits the most?

So if parents already pay less, what’s the problem?

According to the plaintiffs, the 2001 ruling made a false equivalence between small and large families and didn’t fully take into account the loss of income, time and cost associated with raising kids. 

The lawyers argued that the plaintiffs suffered a double loss of earnings when raising their children and looking after the older generation, and pointed to the fact that women’s pensions are often much lower than men due to time spent bringing up children.

The Catholic Family Federation also suggested that families didn’t really receive free healthcare for their children. That’s because the parents’ contributions are only assessed on their overall earnings, which means that the number of children they have and the costs associated with that aren’t taken into account.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s new parental benefits reforms

The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.

The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

And what were the counterarguments? 

Arguing against the constitutional complaint, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said the costs associated with bringing up a child should be shouldered by society as a whole rather than any given insurance fund.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV) pointed out that children may not necessarily grow up and pay into the same insurance pot that their parents’ did, making it hard to calculate parents’ contributions based on their children’s future ones. Some children may grow up and move abroad, which would mean they would pay into a different pension or health insurance fund entirely, they pointed out. 

The GKV advocated for reimbursing parents through child benefits rather than through reductions in insurance contributions. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the complicated world of German insurance

Did the judges agree with the plaintiffs? 

Partly – but only on the care insurance issue. According to the judges, the 2001 ruling didn’t go far enough in taking into account the number of children in a family. The more children a family has, the greater the effort and the associated costs for parents, they wrote in a statement announcing the ruling.

“This disadvantage occurs even from the second child,” the statement reads. “Charging the same contribution rate to parents regardless of the number of children they have is not constitutionally justified.” 

School pupils in a German classroom

School children sit in a classroom in Neckartailfingen, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

On health insurance and pensions, however, they disagreed with the plaintiffs. 

They said that time taken out by parents to look after children was already factored into the statutory pensions system and pointed to the fact that people benefit from free healthcare as a teenager and child as part of their parents’ health insurance plans. 

READ ALSO: Ehegattensplitting: How did Germany’s marriage tax law become so controversial?

What happens now? 

The court has given the government until July 31st 2023 to introduce a tapered system with larger discounts for larger families.

Speaking to RND on Wednesday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said his ministry would implement the changes to the law within the agreed timeframe. He said officials would look closely at the reasoning for the ruling and see how it could be best applied to a new tariff system.

However, Lauterbach emphasised that the social care system still needed to be properly financed. “We also want to tackle that,” he said. 

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