To the editor:
An insurance adjustor came to my property last
month to take pictures to verify insurability, and while he was
there asked if we had any pets. Yes, we have two birds, a rabbit and
a 6-year-old spayed German shepherd, but she wasn't there yet as we
were just moving in. A week later I received a nonrenewal letter
from Acuity Insurance of Sheboygan, Wis., stating that I had 30 days
from the date the letter was sent to find new homeowners insurance.
I immediately called, and that's when I found out about "breed
restrictions" and that it is completely legal in most states,
Breed restriction, or breed profiling, is an insurance practice
similar to racial profiling. Insurance companies judge the family
pet based on its "potential," not its behavior. It's all based on
the dog's breed, not its deeds. It's purely judgmental, unfair and
unscientific, since any dog, regardless of size or breed, can bite
if provoked. The key to reducing dog bites is responsible pet
ownership. This insurance company did not care about my dog's
gender, age or training, or even want to meet my dog. I would have
liked the opportunity to defend ourselves as responsible pet owners,
but was never given the chance and soon found myself looking for new
I think money is the motivation that many of the major insurance
carriers have for price hikes, coverage limits and high deductibles.
If a dog is a well-behaved member of the household and the
community, there is no reason to deny or cancel coverage. In fact, I
would argue that the dog is an asset, an alarm system whose bark may
deter intruders and prevent potential theft and vandalism, or warn
people of other hazards.
Dog problems are generally problems with owner responsibility and
are not limited to breeds, and when breeds are singled out as
dangerous or vicious, responsibility is removed from the dog owner.
The dog owner is where the responsibility belongs.
Irresponsible owners are less likely to follow the law, and as
result all dog owners have to suffer. Cincinnati, Ohio, overturned
its breed-specific law because it was so ineffective, very expensive
to enforce and inadequate to protect citizens from dangerous or
Breeds and mixes can be hard to identify, and often dogs are
mislabeled. Again it is all judgmental: "If it looks like a _, it
must be a _". With so many mixed-breed dogs out there, will the
insurance companies try to use the same one-eighth or one-sixteenth
rules that were used to determine race in the 1800s?
Dogs mislabeled by paranoia and prejudice punish those that are
good canine citizens. Many of these very same breeds have proven
their stability, loyalty and worth serving as assistance dogs for
handicapped owners, search and rescue dogs, drug sniffing dogs, and
police dogs. The insurance carriers must want to drive them out of
the community also.
[to top of second column in this letter]
Banning the so-called dangerous breed will only hasten the upswing
in popularity of some other breed until it is accused of attacks on
people and declared vicious. The list used by most insurers is
already a list of 12 to 15 breeds. Who knows? -- before long it may
be all dogs. Why stop there? In order to keep the bottom line, why
not penalize all pet owners? There is no valid reason to deprive
animal lovers of their well-behaved pets.
Responsible dog owners
with the following breeds, beware. You may also find yourself
scrambling for new or more expensive coverage, should your insurer
find out. Akita, American Staffordshire terrier (aka pit bull),
Bernese mountain or cattle dog, Canario (aka Pressa Canario), chow
chow, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Great Dane, huskies
(American, Eskimo, Greenland, and often but not always Siberian --
better have papers), Karelian (aka Laika), malamute (aka Alaskan
malamute), Rhodesian ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard.
Additionally, although not specific breeds, the following are also
often not allowed: any dog mixed with wolf or coyote; any mixed
breed with any of the list as part of the mix; or any dog,
regardless of breed, trained as a guard dog.
In my opinion, the "mixed with any breed" of the above list gives
the insurance companies reason to deny or raise cost to nearly any
While Illinois seems to be heading in one direction, three states
have now banned breed restrictions by insurers.
Don't wait for disaster: Contact legislators, council members and
zoning commissions with concerns about dog laws on the books and
suggestions for preventing problems with reasonable laws that
protect well-behaved dogs and responsible dog owners while targeting
those who actually cause nuisances or endanger public safety.
Brian L. Dukes
= = =
Note from editor: LDN contacted Corey Leonard at Shelter
Insurance in Lincoln to substantiate the above information. He said
that some insurance companies do practice breed restrictions where
there is statistical reputation as a hazard.
He further explained that it is much easier for the insurance
company to refuse insurance or charge more when it is a new policy,
as this is a new contract being entered into by both parties.
Contrarily, it is more difficult for a company to do anything once a
policy is in place.
He said he knows of other situations where the agent has gone out
and seen a dog of a breed not on the list showing aggressive
behavior, and the applicants were turned down as a hazard.
He said he likes to meet a dog in a home and goes by that.
(Posted Sept. 10, 2005)
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