by Michele C. Hollow, Editor, petnewsandviews.com
(Below are excerpts from a 3 part series by Pet News and Views on insuring pit bulls. Read the full series at petnewsandviews.com!)
Pet News and Views has turned into a forum for Pit Bull defenders. It all started when I heard from my friend, Holly, who is purchasing her first home. She told me that if she gets a Pit Bull, she can’t afford the homeowner’s insurance. …
She is particularly interested in adopting a Pit Bull from her local shelter.
"I wanted to adopt a Pit Bull from a shelter because I think they’re cute and need to be adopted by people who can handle this type of dog," she says. "But, the home insurance agents I talked to told me if I get a Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Husky, Chow, Akita, Doberman, Rottweiler, or a mix with any of the above, I forfeit my coverage and no one else will cover me either."
"How is it that people can own these animals? Shelters are full of Pit Bull mixes, but can no one adopt them and still have insurance for their homes? This just seems to perpetuate the standard of over-full shelters."
"The problem with insurance," she adds, "is that the most affordable one for me was Liberty Mutual, and they aren’t breed neutral. And maybe it was a sales thing but when I questioned the guy about it he told me that all the insurance companies had similar policies."
Holly lives in New Jersey-my home state too. For those of you who know me know where I stand on Pit Bulls. Friday’s post debunks 8 Pit Bull myths. It was written by Mary L. Harwelik of The Real Pit Bull, Inc.
We all can agree that Pit Bulls are often maligned-except by those who own them or who have worked for them. I’ve posted comments about this on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and the reactions are quite emotional.
So what’s a person to do? Holly is quite compassionate-as are those of you who have rescued dogs from shelters and the streets. My friends who own pure bred American Pit Bull Terriers, Pit Bull mixes and a few of the dogs that Holly mentioned pay higher home owner insurance rates.
Talking to Insurance Agents
I spoke to several insurance agents to see what can be done. I’m starting with Kevin P. Foley of PFT&K Insurance Brokers based in Milltown, NJ. …
Here’s Kevin’s take:
"I’m an Independent Agent in Central NJ. I work with two different insurance companies. Both insurance companies include in their underwriting guidelines questions about dogs. Each wants to know if there is a dog in the home and if so, what breed or mix of breeds."
"One insurance company will not extend coverage to a homeowner that owns an aggressive breed of dog which they define in their underwriting guidelines. The definition includes Pit Bulls. This insurance company will cancel coverage at the renewal date (as opposed to the middle of the year) if you acquire an aggressive breed of dog and they find out. I recently lost a client because they got a Doberman and the company canceled."
"The other company will, upon disclosure that you have a dog, no matter the breed, ask if it has acted aggressively or has ever bitten someone. If the answer is yes, they will decline the application. If the answer is no, the application is acceptable."
I heard from a number of insurance agents, and decided to let them speak out on the matter.
A few told me there is an old saying in the insurance industry: "You can insure a burning building-for the right price."
Not all insurers discriminate against specific breeds. Mike Coleman, LUTCF, of State Farm in Lineville, AL, says, "We do not discriminate. It is pretty much an agent call with us. If the dog has an aggressive past (We ask if the dog has ever bitten anyone or been trained to attack.) or if I feel threatened by a dog or am otherwise approached in a threatening manner by the dog, I will usually pass on the business.
"We do, however, offer an exclusion that will allow us to write the home. It excludes liability and medical payments coverage if the dog is involved in the incident."
Justin Haislip, an agent with State Farm in Orrville, OH, explains that the only dog his agency won’t cover are Pit Bulls. "The reason is that Ohio law states that you have to have a specific liability insurance policy on the dog itself," he says.
And David Miller, CIC, CRM, and managing director at Bensman Risk Management in Chicago gave a detailed response, "I am a dog owner (our dog is an 80 lb mixed-breed, most likely including some Lab and Border Collie in his mix), so I can empathizeÂ with dog owners who do not agree with an insurance company’s decision to deny coverage based on a dog’s breed."
"The problem is that when a dog bite occurs, the insurance company usually has to pay a very large sum of money to settle the claim. Dog bite claims, like claims involving trampoline injuries, are usually "the kiss of death" for a person’s home insurance policy. Unless it is a VERY minor claim, the person who owns the dog is virtually guaranteed that their home insurance coverage will be canceled at the next available renewal. In some cases, a company will allow the policy to continue, but only if they receive proof that the dog was euthanized."
"Compounding this problem is the fact that insurance companies share claims information (via a service called CLUE), much like banks andÂ credit card companies share credit information. This is done so a person cannot lie about their past claims when applying for coverage with a new company. So, if you have a dog bite claim on yourÂ homeowner’s insurance and then you are canceled, you can expect it toÂ be very difficult to find a new company to take you as a new client."
"Why do companies underwrite by breed? Mainly because their experience with certain breeds indicates a strong likelihood of a future loss."
"So, can a person find homeowner’s insurance if they have a certain breed of dog? Absolutely. Two of the companies that we representÂ (Chubb and Chartis) do not underwrite by breed, but I can almost guarantee you that if one of our Chubb or Chartis clients has a dog bite claim, we will have to find a new policy for them once the claim is closed."
Why Insurance Companies Ask
"A dog bite is a homeowner claim and even if it’s a minor bite (the dog nipped because it just can’t say "leave me alone, you scare me") the insurance company is obligated to defend the homeowner if he gets sued over the bite. Lawsuits result in legal expenses that insurance companies want to avoid."
Why Some Companies are More Restrictive
"In the case of the first insurance company, they are small and local and therefore more sensitive to claims. It could be that sometime in the past they had a very severe claim and made an underwriting decision to just avoid aggressive breeds. And when I say severe, I don’t mean the injury was severe, I mean the expense of the claim was severe. The homeowner insurance policy may have cost $500, while the claim and claim expenses could have been north of $100,000; you can see the imbalance. Also, companies don’t make decisions, people do and all it takes is for one person in charge, who doesn’t like dogs or had a bad experience with a dog to make a decision, we’re not insuring dogs’."
"The other insurance company (Travelers) is a large national insurance company. They can afford to take a larger view of the risk and accept the possibility of a bite."
"Do insurance companies charge more if you have an aggressive breed? I’ve never heard of charging more. If an insurance company believes a dog presents a risk of claim, they would deny the application. If they thought a Parrot presented a risk of claim, they’d deny that application too."
What Should Pit Bull Owners Do?
"What would I do if an insurance company said no? Shop. Check with your dog owner friends and see where they got their insurance. Go on the internet and seek out quotes and follow up I would not ask, do you accept dogs?’ That will make someone think your dog is a problem. Wait for them to ask the question. If they ask, answer honestly. A dog bite after a dishonest answer could void the policy. If they don’t ask about a dog, you’re fine but request a copy of the application to keep it with your policy just in case."
"Personally, my dog died two weeks ago after 11 years. She was a Chocolate Lab. I understand how some dog owners look upon a rejection of their dog as a rejection of a family member. Don’t take it personally, it’s just business and there are insurance companies that understand, like I do, there are no aggressive dogs, just aggressiveÂ owners."
States that Require Liability Insurance
These states and the District of Columbia require owners of dogs determined to be dangerous or vicious or in some cases, potentially dangerous, [regardless of breed] to obtain substantial liability insurance policies:
Ohio [required specifically for pit bulls]
This info was supplied to me by Laura Allen, attorney who writes the blog Animal Law Coalition. Â On her site is a link to states that prohibit breed discrimination. She also has aÂ Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) Watch Forum.
OhioÂ and Pit Bulls
One of the toughest states for Pit Bull owners is Ohio. According to another friend, Mary O’Connor-Shaver of Columbus Top Dogs andÂ Ban Ohio Dog Auctions, "Ohio lawÂ mandates thatÂ anyone who owns a Pit Bull-type companion to haveÂ at least $100,000 in liability insurance that would provide coverage if their companion would cause damage to a person’s body or a person’s death."
Mary suggested that proof of obedience training or other specialized training is helpful because it demonstrates the responsibility of the owner.
Ways to Get Insurance If you have a Pit Bull
A number of home insurance agents recognize the Canine Good Citizen certificate. "I have been approached by a couple of insurance agents whose companies are not issuing homeowners policies to owners of certain breeds," says Chris Hamer, a certified dog behavior counselor and a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. "Some of the targeted breeds are Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. Some agencies legislate by weight or size. The only good news in all of this is that the agents that I talked with said they will issue policies if the dog has earned its Canine Good Citizen certification."
Chris, who is the education chairperson at International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and author of the bookÂ Parenting with Pets, the Magic of Raising Children withÂ Animals, explains that in order to get a Canine Good Citizen certificate the dog must show that it is comfortable and friendly with strangers, understands obedience commands, can be in public, and is not jumping on people or other dogs. The dog cannot show any signs of aggression or it is disqualified. The dog must be okay with both loud noises and visual distractions.
Canine Good Citizen programs are run by AKC (American Kennel Club). Other dog training programs may work as well. You just have to talk to your insurance agent.
I’ have said many times here and on various social media networks, it’s not the dog, it’s how the dog is raised.