The MSPCA receives many phone calls from people who are denied homeowner’s insurance solely because they own a particular breed of dog.
These breeds include Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers. Some insurance companies also refuse to insure homeowners who have dogs with a history of aggressive behavior. This information will assist you in acquiring or maintaining a homeowner’s insurance policy when you own or adopt a breed of dog that may be identified by insurance companies as high risk.
Why are breed-specific policies a bad idea?
The MSPCA opposes ordinances and policies targeting specific breeds of dogs for several reasons:
The MSPCA believes that the focus of those attempting to enact breed-specific policies -- including cities, towns, and insurance companies -- should be on preventing all dog bites regardless of breed. Dog bites can be prevented by educating both dog owners and the public about dog behavior and by enacting stronger animal-control laws. These steps can achieve the insurance companies’ goal of reducing the number of dog bite claims they face.
Is it legal for my insurance company to deny, cancel, or increase my premium because of the type of dog I own?
Yes. The law does not prohibit insurance companies from discrimination based on breed. While breed-specific city and town ordinances have been challenged on constitutional grounds, such as due process and equal protection, insurance companies--because they are not part of the government--are not subject to these constitutional restrictions.
Why are insurance companies reluctant to insure certain breeds?
Dog bite claims cost insurance companies a tremendous amount of money. It is estimated that 4.7 million injuries occur from dog bites each year in the United States, with 800,000 requiring medical treatment. Insurance companies pay an estimated $250 million a year in dog bite claims, with an average claim cost of $12,000. Insurance companies sometimes attempt to limit their liability for these dog bites by eliminating what they perceive as high risks.
Are there insurance agencies that don't discriminate based on breed?
Yes. Insurance companies that may insure otherwise black listed dog breeds include Amica, Chubb, Hanover, Hartford, Fireman's, and the Massachusetts FAIR plan. Most of these companies work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog's behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification. Also, The American Kennel Club is opposed to breed discrimination and has put together a Homeowners’ Insurance Resource Center website with more information.
I rent. Do I need to worry about insurance?
Like homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance may cover dog bites. If you are a potential tenant looking for an apartment, an offer to provide renter’s insurance may help convince a landlord to accept you and your dog as tenants. Additionally, renter’s insurance will cover your personal property not covered by your landlord’s insurance.
Do I need to notify my insurance company when I adopt a new dog? Will I be covered if I do not notify them within a certain period of time?
Check your policy. If your policy is unclear, contact your insurance company for answers.
What if my insurance company denies or cancels my homeowner’s insurance? I want to keep my dog!
Many insurance companies do not automatically reject owners of certain breeds but may require letters from veterinarians, dog obedience certificates, or a home visit by an insurance agent. If your insurance company will not insure you because of the breed of dog you own, check with your insurance agent, who may know of another company that will insure you.
In addition, some companies may insure you but exclude the animal from the policy. In Massachusetts, if homeowners are denied coverage, insurance can be obtained through the state’s FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan, operated by the Massachusetts Insurance Property Underwriting Association. The FAIR Plan can be reached at Two Center Plaza, Boston, MA 02108-1904, (617) 723-3800 or (800) 392-6108, and at http://www.mpiua.com/.
Why do dogs bite?
A dog’s tendency to bite is a product of many factors, including: genetic predisposition to be aggressive, early socialization, training for obedience or fighting, and quality of care and supervision. Therefore, an inherently aggressive dog may present little or no risk of biting if the dog is well trained and responsibly supervised. A seemingly friendly dog with little genetic tendency to bite may become dangerous if it lacks socialization or supervision or if it is mistreated or provoked. Any dog, if subject to certain circumstances, can become dangerous.
In addition, a dog’s tendency to bite is affected by whether it is spayed or neutered. A study of medically attended dog bites in Denver, Colorado, suggest that male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than female dogs; dogs that are unspayed/unneutered are 2.6 times more likely to bite than spayed/neutered dogs; and chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs.
What is the MSPCA doing to help dog owners?
The MSPCA is currently participating in a Dog Bite Study Group, seeking ways to address dog bites and the large number of dog bite claims. As a part of this study, we are generating non-breed-specific questions -- such as those regarding a dog’s obedience training and spay/neuter status -- for insurance companies to ask when claims are made. Answers to these questions will help identify how frequently variables other than breed are factors in dog bites and related claims.
In addition, the MSPCA’s humane law enforcement department aims to prevent the training and use of dogs for fighting and investigates and prosecutes those participating in this illegal activity. Many incidents relating to dog bites may occur because a dog has been trained and/or bred to be aggressive and to fight.
What can I do to prevent breed discrimination policies?
It is imperative that dog owners be responsible. The best way to prevent the introduction of legislation or other policies that are often reactionary and are not in the best interest of dogs or the public is to set an example and demonstrate that properly trained dogs do not cause problems.
The MSPCA advocates on the state and local level to prevent enacting policies, laws, and ordinances that target specific breeds. Contact the MSPCA Advocacy Department, (617) 522-7400, or click here, for more information on how to become involved in this and other animal issues.
What can I do to help prevent my dog from biting?