The next time you speak with an insurance agent, you may be surprised when they ask if you have any pets.
Insurance companies are cracking down on more dog breeds and banning them from being insured.
Today, there are over a dozen dog breeds that have been blacklisted by many insurance companies due to liability.
According to an article in Psychology Today, dog bite-related claims accounted for more than a third of all insurance liability claims paid out in 2013, which amounted to over $490 million.
Just over the last decade, payouts for dog-related claims have skyrocketed over 90%.
And, although dog bites are a major concern, they are just one injury that can happen from a dog.
Due to the perceived dangers of certain dog breeds, many states have enacted breed-specific legislation.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to promote safety for humans and other animals.
While some states don’t allow dog breed profiling by insurance companies, over 700 U.S. cities have banned specific dog breeds city-wide and some states, like Tennessee, have even proposed a statewide ban on certain breeds.
Lawmakers and insurance carriers cite research from the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control for information on “dangerous” breeds, although many question the validity of the data.
Many insurance companies also use media coverage to determine which breeds are too much of a liability, which many deem unfair.
For example, in 2001 a woman was mauled to death by two Presa Canario dogs in San Francisco, which led to the breed being blacklisted by insurance companies.
Although it was eventually learned that the dogs were violent because their owner abused them and forced them to participate in illegal dog fights, Presa Canarios were still banned by numerous insurance carriers.
Even mixed breed dogs are banned if they are mixed with a breed on the banned list.
Some of the most commonly banned breeds include:
- Pitbull Terrier
- German Shepherd
- Siberian Husky
- Doberman Pinscher
- Chow Chow
But how does one determine a dog’s breed?
Unless the dog has a pedigree, there’s no way of telling what breed it might be.
For this reason, most people use visual cues to determine breed, like size, color, ear shape, etc.
According to a review by the National Canine Research Council, research has consistently shown that “visual breed identification is most often inaccurate and researchers have known for decades that even first generation crossbreeds usually look dramatically different than either parent.”
Moreover, new research indicates that even experts have very little agreement when visually identifying dog breeds due to the discrepancies between visual breed identification and objective DNA analysis.
“Many scenarios result in a dog’s presumed breed being recorded including arrival at a shelter, veterinary visits, licensing, housing and insurance applications, medical visits following dog bites, and the subsequent media reporting of such incidents,” stated the report.
“Eventually, these unverified breed attributions make their way to databases that are then used in retrospective research studies to make claims about canine behavior.”
For this reason, breed-neutral laws are a better alternative.
There is no evidence to prove that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people and other animals.
In fact, breed-specific legislation has failed to reduce dog bite-related injuries anywhere.
A study by the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000 found that although fatal attacks by dogs on humans is a breed-specific problem, any breed can bite and cause fatalities.
Therefore, since fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog-related injuries, the CDC concluded that there are better ways to prevent dog attacks than breed restrictions.
Another study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests that there is no scientifically valid basis for breed-specific legislation and that the introduction of such legislation could lead to significant negative consequences.
Studies have shown that breed-neutral laws are a better alternative because there are many factors that determine if a dog could become violent, like training, heredity, and reproductive status, to name a few.
A breed-neutral approach could include:
- Increased availability of sterilization services
- Laws that hold dog owners more responsible for their dogs’ behavior
- Graduated penalties and options for dogs that are deemed dangerous
- Stricter laws for animal cruelty and dog fighting
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as well as the CDC, are firmly against breed-specific legislation.
The CDC cited, among other problems, the inaccuracy of dog bite data and the difficulty in identifying dog breeds (especially mixed-breed dogs).
Depending on the state you live in, if you own a blacklisted dog breed, your application for coverage may be denied or you may pay a higher premium.
What do you think?
Should breed-specific laws be replaced with breed-neutral laws?