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When you buy your next home or renter’s insurance policy, you might come across a very innocent question: “Do you own a dog?”
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It’s not a topic of conversation. Many home insurance companies have official lists of prohibited dog breeds that they file with state insurance departments. If one of these dogs lives in your home, you may be denied coverage.
If you’re looking to renew your policy, you could be faced with a terrible choice: either the dog walks away or you do. And, in most cases, you can’t get a mortgage without home insurance, so you might be on your own to find an alternative.
Since these lists of dog breeds are hidden in documents filed with state insurance departments, you probably wouldn’t know you have a “dangerous” dog until you answered the question and discovered the consequences. Not all insurers have lists of prohibited breeds; some take things on a case-by-case basis and only cause owners trouble when the dog has a history of biting.
Related: Compare Pet Insurance Plans 2021
The usual suspects
Dobermans, Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are still on home insurance ban lists, according to a recent study by Forbes Advisor. Chow Chows, Presa Canarios and Akitas also make frequent appearances.
Other commonly prohibited breeds include the German Shepherd, Husky, Mastiff, Alaskan Malamute, and Bullmastiff.
Do you have an American Bulldog, Cane Corso, Great Dane, Malamute or Giant Schnauzer? Could be a problem.
Lawyer Larry Cunningham moved to Texas several years ago and remembers how he was almost forced to give up his two dogs because of their supposedly bad bloodlines. One was a Rottweiler, the other half a Chow Chow. He says “both were playful, friendly and never showed any aggressive tendencies”. Luckily, Cunningham came across a home insurance policy from the Texas Farm Bureau. Otherwise, this dog lover might have had to “choose his furry friends over being an owner.”
More and more owners may have recently found themselves on an insurer’s “prohibited breeds” list. The pandemic has found more people staying at home and adopting “pandemic pets” from shelters. A February 2021 survey conducted by the Insurance Research Council showed that 21% of owners said they had adopted a dog in 2020.
Lawyers and doctors = $$$
Insurance companies are defending their decision to ban breeds. It’s all about money or, more specifically, legal fees and huge medical claims from those attacked by dogs, including reconstructive surgery.
When you have home insurance, your policy usually covers claims against you for dog bites and attacks. In 2020, dog bite claims actually declined by almost 5%, according to the Insurance Information Institute. But the average cost of a claim has risen more than 12% and now logs in at $50,425. Many insurance companies have sought to limit their potential expenses by prohibiting the breeds most commonly associated with these insurance claims.
New Jersey resident Sophia Buchan knows firsthand what can happen when a pit bull emerges from an unfenced yard and tries to attack your child. His Labrador retriever fought a pit bull but nearly lost a leg. When the vet bills totaled over $8,000, she sued.
Total dog-related injury claims in the United States were $854 million last year, with Nebraska having the highest average cost of a claim at $71,000. The total includes dog-related injuries in addition to bites, such as a child being thrown off a bicycle or an elderly person tripping on a leash.
Animal advocates such as Best Friends Animal Society and the American Kennel Club point out that this is only a tiny fraction of what insurers pay. They say liability claims make up 2% of property insurers’ total payouts, and dog-related claims are only part of that.
Misperceptions and Questionable Data
Dog advocates denigrate the practice of identifying “dangerous” dogs by breed. They point out that any dog, big or small, will bite if provoked, or if it defends itself or its owner.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the main breed-bite study from 1979 to 2003. It was this study that initiated much of the “breed-specific legislation”. race” adopted by state and local governments in recent years.
By the end of 2019, 40 counties and 1,160 cities had enacted race-specific laws, according to Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute. “And pit bulls were named in 97% of all city ordinances,” she adds.
Animal advocates say the original CDC study is flawed. It was based on newspaper clippings and police reports, which often did not correctly identify the race of the biter – pure or mixed or just unknown. Dogs may not be specific when it comes to mating, especially if they are strays. Insurance companies respond that they use claims data.
Solutions to Forbidden Breeds
Although dogs cannot vote, the laws affecting them can change in their favor. “Several states now ban breed-specific prescriptions,” says the American Veterinary Medical Association. These include California, Florida and Illinois. The association maintains a list of state laws regarding breed-specific ordinances.
While these laws don’t apply to home insurance companies, owning a “dangerous breed” doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get coverage. If you see this worrying question about whether you have a dog, check with your insurer for their dog breed guidelines. Instead of a denial, he could ask for a higher premium to cover the dog, additional coverage or even a fence around the yard, insurers say.
If all else fails, find another insurer, like Cunningham did. One option is the nation’s largest home insurer, State Farm, which has a policy of not discriminating against certain breeds. “State Farm is focused on dog bite prevention education rather than breed restriction,” a company spokesperson said.
Related: Compare Pet Insurance Plans 2021
But if your dog actually bites someone, everything changes. Your home insurance policy will cover the bite, but then you could be canceled.
In some cases, you might be able to add a “canine disclaimer” that voids dog coverage, but that would let you hold the bag if there’s a dog-related lawsuit against you.
Perhaps the best way to avoid insurance disputes is to put some effort into training the dog. A starting point is the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program.
Animal advocates want action
Then there is the moral issue. Is it fair to discriminate against one type of dog over another? Or, to take it a step further – as animal advocates do – is it appropriate to show prejudice against people who want a dog, perhaps for protection?
“The use of breed lists negatively impacts three groups: uninformed consumers, people of color, and consumers of low to moderate means,” says the Animal Defense League, American Kennel Club, Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society and others in an appeal to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the rule-making body for US insurance companies. They want a moratorium on the use of insurance “no-breeds” lists.
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