Discrimination by insurance companies, against homeowners who own dogs and landlords whose tenants own dogs, is a very real problem. It is almost always based on the breed or appearance of the dog and not on the dog itself. I have seen it and I have been personally affected by it.
I was denied homeowner's insurance by more than thirty companies because I own a bully breed dog and did not attempt to hide it. It does not matter that my dog is always kept on a leash, that he is neutered, that my yard is fenced or that there has not been an insurance claim against him. None of these companies would even offer me a homeowner’s policy.
Pit bull owners are not the only victims. Owners of other breeds, including Rottweilers, Akitas, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Huskies, Malamutes, Chow Chows, Great Danes, all Mastiff breeds and others are also targeted by insurance companies. To make matters worse, most insurance companies base their emphasis on the way a dog looks, without regard to DNA, so numerous mixed breed dogs are included as well as purebred dogs that simply look like targeted breeds.
While insurance companies try to justify this practice by claiming that dog bites make up a significant portion of claims and dog owners pose more of a risk than non-dog owners, the other side of the coin is that the vast majority of dogs have never bitten anyone but their owners are penalized anyway. Insurance companies need to recognize this, not lump dogs into categories and stop punishing responsible dog owners.
When it comes to dog bites, human ignorance also comes into play as many dog bites can be avoided by understanding a dog’s body language. People can also reduce the risk of being bitten by using simple common sense. Do not attempt to pet a dog you do not know. Teach your children respect for animals. Do not stick your fingers inside a fence or car window if there is a dog present. Do not get in a dog’s face or startle it from behind. Do not stare at a dog. Remember these are not people – they are animals, and animals act on instinct.
Some states are taking measures to stop discrimination by insurance companies. In my state of Connecticut a bill (HB 5361) was introduced before the legislature this year, motivated in large part by an organization known as Connecticut Votes for Animals. Unfortunately, it was not acted on before the end of the legislative session so now the process must be repeated from the beginning – and, thanks to the dedication of many – it will.
If you want to see change, one good place to start and something we can all do is to write or call our legislators. Make it known that we do not support insurance discrimination and let them know we live in their districts and we vote.
I cannot encourage this enough. Get involved. Be part of the solution. Remember, even if you are not affected now, as long as these practices are allowed to continue, you and your dog could be targeted next.