In the rather colorful and somewhat incongruent political environment of NJ, a recent subject of public discourse has been whether the following phrase in an animal cruelty, disorderly persons and/or motor vehicle statute – “A person who shall carry, or cause to be carried, a living animal or creature in or upon a vehicle or otherwise, in a cruel or inhumane manner shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and punished as provided in subsection a. of R.S.4:22-17” means that drivers, by law, and furthermore to avoid the taint of cruelty or inhumanity, and finally to escape whatever punishment is spelled out in subsection a. of R.S.4:22-17, must belt, buckle or box up Fido and Mittens for that trip to the vet’s.
A spokeswoman for the Motor Vehicle Commission, formerly the Department of Motor Vehicles, explains: “You should not be driving down the road under any circumstances with a dog driving the car” (quoted in http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/06/n-j-other-states-turn-focus-to-pets-in-fight-against-distracted-driving/). She went on to clarify: ““We don’t want dogs driving with the steering wheel, and we don’t want cats who sit on the dashboard.”
If you are inclined to think that the tally of driving dogs and dashboard cats hasn’t reached a level that calls for regulatory intervention, remember that this is New Jersey, where the legislative reach never cedes its grasp upon the taxpayer’s pocketbook, else what’s a levy for? Violators may be assessed fines as high as $1000, not only by the police, but also by officers with the NJ SPCA. (The referenced article included a link for a limited time offer of a 25% discount on pet harnesses purchased through the ASPCA’s online store.)
Sometimes, it is helpful to look at an issue from the perspective of unintended consequences. Despite (or, perhaps, due to) the efforts of animal adoption organizations and ‘no kill’ advocates, most shelters are at capacity. They receive the by-products of abuse, hoarding, neglect and abandonment, and adopt out to those who are not only pet lovers, but who have calculated the expense of pet ownership in terms of the veterinary care, food, bedding, grooming. But what is affordable, congenial and even mutually beneficial to the rescue organizations and potential pet owners, may be only one peremptory, nannified, wallet-wringing regulation (and its collateral fines, fees or taxes) away from the “It’s just not worth it” that overwhelms animal shelters and undermines the no-kill supporters.
Let’s have a look at Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons. (I suspect that you are going, “Wha….? Wha….?” at this point). The Watsons was begun in the early 1800s and abandoned, with about 17,000 words written, some time in 1805. At one point there is an exchange between Robert Watson, an ambitious attorney and his self-important wife during a visit to his genteel-but-on-the-decline family. “You have not put any fresh powder in your hair,” Mrs. Watson chastises her husband. He replies that, as they are dining en famille, “I think there is enough powder in my hair for my wife and sisters.” Yet, when they are visited by the social-climbing houseguest of Lady Osborne, Watson hastens to remark that “I had not time even to put a little fresh powder in my hair.”
In the late Georgian era, powdering the hair, the wigs and artificial hair pieces was de rigueur for royalty, the ton, their menservants and certain professionals, and this kept wig makers, hairdressers, purveyors of hair powder and pomade in business. The passage from The Watsons is Austen’s lengthiest allusion to the fashion. There is Sir Walter Elliott’s condescending remark about a certain Admiral Baldwin’s “…nine grey hairs of a side and nothing but a dab of powder at top” (Persuasion), and Mrs. Norris’s mention of the rheumatic coachman donning his wig in preparation for an outing (Mansfield Park), and Catherine Morland’s discovery of a cleaning bill that includes hair powder (Northanger Abbey), but only Robert Watson talks about using hair powder, and, while he feels no need to dress up for his humble family, he is not above what Darcy called “an indirect boast”; i.e., promoting himself as a man of fashion by way of the offhand comment that he was too busy (rather than too poor) to powder his hair.
What did hair powder, or the absence of it, have to do with how well off one was? Well, in 1795, Parliament decided to levy a tax to offset government spending, looked to taxable items and practices in widespread use, settled on hair powder and passed the Duty on Hair Powder Act. Hair powder fanciers were now required to visit the stamp office to procure a certificate that licensed the use of the product at the cost of one guinea (21 shillings, or just over a pound) per year. Of course, as with any duty, tax or fine, there were a host of exemptions: the royal family and their staff, the military, both enlisted and volunteers, and clergymen who earned under a hundred pounds a year. The Act did not limit itself to hair powder, but included “… any powder which shall be used as hair powder with intent to evade the payment of the said duty…” and determined that “…every sort or composition of powder which shall be used or worn by any person as an article of his or her dress, by whatever name the same shall be distinguished, shall be deemed hair powder within the intent and meaning of this Act.” In other words: Do not attempt to avoid the duty by using face powder, flour, chalk, etc. as hair powder.
Rules were laid down for the licensing of family members and servants in a single household and, to thwart unauthorized pate powdering by tenants and renters, the Act placed the burden upon landlords, lessors and innkeepers of notifying their occupants of the tax, and required “occupiers” (landlords and other lessors) to list and identify all of their tenants and that any “…occupier of any dwelling house or separate apartment who shall not return such list of lodgers or inmates or shall omit any who ought to be returned therein and who, to his or her knowledge, shall have worn hair powder…” is liable to a 50 pound fine.
Fifty pounds to a Georgian era lessor is (allowing for differences in currency indexing) roughly an equivalent to that Cleveland levied on the middle income owner of a dashboard cat. Now one might argue, “Why not simply take the time to submit the list of tenants and avoid the fine”, just as one might argue “Why not simply buy a harness or carrier and avoid the fine”? The straw is always inconsequential to everyone save the camel.
What was not inconsequential to the producers and vendors of wigs and hair powder was the public’s reaction to the tax. By 1805, when Robert
Watson was indirectly boasting of his ability to keep himself in hair powder, the tax had driven off all but those who were waivered by the law, or the few social climbers parading their wealth, and ushered in the more natural hair styles of the early 19th century.
Here’s hoping that pound hounds don’t go the way of the periwig.