Why Cat Owners in Siberia Really Need to Pay Their Taxes

Take out a loan and you may have to offer up something as collateral — an item of value which, if you fail to pay back the money owed, your creditor gets to take from you. Sometimes, the item being financed is also the collateral — for example, for mortgages, it is often your house; for car leases, the car. Sometimes, loans are secured by things unrelated to why the money is being borrowed. And sometimes, your pet gets involved.

Well, not really — but only because unpaid taxes aren’t quite analogous to loans.

If you don’t pay your taxes — in the United States, at least — the penalties typically are a mix of more money owned (in the form of fines and interest) or, in egregious cases, prison time. While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can get a lien on your home, it’s rare that they’ll foreclose — instead, they often simply wait to collect the owed tax dollars until you sell your house or refinance your mortgage. But not all countries follow the same pattern of behavior. Take Russia for example. Many local governments there will seize items of value to make up for taxes owed by non-payers.

That’s exactly what happened in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in December of 2014. According to the BBC, a student there owed the taxman about 12,000 roubles — about $200 — but was unwilling or unable to pony up the cash. Bailiffs were dispatched to confiscate something of roughly that value, to be held until the student could pay his societal debt. But when the bailiffs arrived, they found little of value among the student’s material possessions. But then, the bailiffs expanded their search to include items which many would deem sacrosanct. Specifically, the bailiffs took notice of the student’s cat —  a British Shorthair. They realized it was a pedigreed cat and, therefore, expensive. So the bailiffs seized the cat, holding it until the student could come up with the 12,000 roubles owed.

Apparently, pet-related tax seizure isn’t an isolated incident in Siberia, either. At around the same time, bailiffs in another town seized the pets of another tax delinquent, although in this case (per a Russian news source, here) the pets were one cat and one rabbit. And earlier in 2014, in the Siberian town of Tomsk, a businesswoman who owed 20,000 roubles found her four cats seized for nonpayment — despite the fact that, in all of these cases, the pets did nothing wrong.

According to various reports, many (if not all) of the pets were returned once their owners paid the back taxes.

AnchorBonus Fact: Cats and money are linked in Russia in another way — through Sberbank, the largest bank in the nation. According to Foreign Policy, “it’s good luck for the first creature to cross the threshold of a new home to be a feline” according to Russian superstition. So in August of 2014, Sberbank began offering to loan you a cat when you closed on your new house. Take out a mortgage and one of the Moscow-branch’s ten cats is yours — as a short-term rental, though. The cat has to be returned within two hours.

From the Archives: Beard Dough: When Russia taxed beards.

Take the Quiz: Name the words, names, or phrases that beginning with “CAT.”

Related: A book titled “Pet Protection Legal Care Plan: Financial and Legal Planning to Protect Our Companion Pets,” which probably won’t help if the pet is seized for non-payment of taxes.