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.

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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