Homeowners Insurance and Dogs

S. 501: An Act concerning the use of certain insurance underwriting guidelines pertaining to dogs harbored upon the insured property
Senator Anne Gobi
Bill Status:
Sent to the Financial Services Committee

Why is this bill needed?

An increasing number of homeowners have been denied insurance because they own a particular breed of dog that has been identified by the insurance company as a high risk. These breeds include Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Dalmatians, and others.  Insurance is denied for many of these breeds regardless of the lack of any past history of biting.

Policies that target specific breeds discriminate against responsible dog owners who properly train and socialize their dogs. The ramifications of these policies for animal shelters are that potential adopters may be unwilling to adopt certain breeds and dogs are brought to shelters – with the potential that they will be euthanized – because the owner was unable to obtain insurance. Lives are lost and families broken because of ineffective policies.

A dog’s tendency to bite is a product of at least five factors, including the dog’s genetic predisposition to be aggressive, the early socialization of the dog to people, his training for obedience or fighting, the quality of care and supervision provided by the owner/guardian, and the behavior of the victim. All of these factors interact. Any dog can become dangerous under the wrong circumstances. There are other factors that play into a dog’s tendency to bite.  According to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), “Breeds of Dogs involved in Fatal Human Attacks in the U.S. Between 1979 and 1998,” a study in Denver, Colorado of medically-attended dog bites in 1991 suggested that male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than female dogs, sexually intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs, and chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs.

What would this bill do?

This bill would prevent homeowners insurance companies in Massachusetts from discriminating based on dog breed.  It is designed to prevent the increasingly common situation of people being denied homeowners insurance - or having existing policies cancelled - because of the breed of dog owned.

We feel that the focus of insurance companies that attempt to enact breed specific policies should be on the prevention of all bites regardless of the type of breed. Education of both owners and the public about dog behavior will reduce bites. Stronger animal control laws and enforcement of these laws will also prevent bites from all breeds of dogs and achieve the goal of reducing claims paid out by insurers.

Please visit our webpage, http://www.mspca.org/HomeInsurance, or email advocacy@mspca.org to learn more about homeowners insurance and pets in Massachusetts.

Read a news report about the 2013 hearing: http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/09/dog_owners_insurancecompanies.html