Dogs and Housing/Homeowners Insurance • MSPCA-Angell

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Dogs and Housing/Homeowners Insurance

S. 885/H. 1437: An Act to maintain stable housing for families with pets in an economic crisis and beyond

MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsor: Senator Anne Gobi and Representative Dave Rogers
Status: Referred to the Joint Committee on Housing. Hearing held October 12, 2021.

Why is this bill needed?
The housing-shortage crisis affecting every community in Massachusetts is exacerbated for dog-owning families. Responsible Massachusetts dog owners are being told that they are not welcome in certain housing markets if they own medium or larger dogs, or certain breeds (or a dog that looks like one of these breeds). This discrimination is even seen in some of our publicly-funded housing, making this a particularly pernicious practice. An increasing number of homeowners have been denied insurance because they own a particular breed of dog that has been chosen by the insurance company to be a high-risk breed. Insurance is denied for many breeds regardless of the lack of any past history of biting.

Dogs should be judged as the individuals they are — not based on outdated and long-ago-disproven stereotypes. If properties choose to allow dogs as family pets, they should not be able to discriminate based on size, weight, or perceived breed.

The range of breeds affected by these discriminatory practices is staggering, and includes popular dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Dobermans, Pit Bulls, Dalmatians, Rottweilers, and more.

No one should have to choose between their well-behaved dog or their home; it’s that simple.

What does the bill do?
Focusing on the individual dog’s behavior means housing providers will no longer be permitted to arbitrarily restrict responsible owners from keeping their pet based on the pet’s size or weight.

The bill will prevent evictions based on owning a dog without written permission for a year after the COVID emergency ends. It also requires hotels to allow pets during the COVID emergency.

This bill would also prevent homeowners insurance companies in Massachusetts from discriminating (cancelling, refusing to renew, or charging a higher premium based solely on the breed of dog owned). We feel that the focus of insurance companies that attempt to enact breed-specific policies should instead 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 about insurance issues.

Why is this important?
Policies that target specific dog owners based on the size, weight, or perceived breed of their pet discriminate against those who properly train and socialize their dogs. The ramifications of these policies for animal shelters are that dogs are surrendered because owners are unable to find housing and that potential adopters may be unwilling to adopt certain dogs. Lives are lost and families broken. 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 because the owner was unable to obtain insurance. Lives are lost and families broken because of ineffective policies.

In 2012, the legislature recognized the irrelevance of dog breed in assessing the risk posed by dogs by passing a comprehensive law that strengthened the state’s dangerous dog law while prohibiting municipalities from discriminating against dogs based on breed — because no such legislation has ever proven effective at reducing dog bites. It is time for the same standard to be applied to the insurance industry.

There are many reasons why there is no accurate data on the number of aggressive incidents involving a specific breed. Studies show that there is often a significant discrepancy between visual assessment of breed, and actual genetic determination of the dog’s breed — even when the visual assessment is conducted by individuals who have substantial experience working with dogs. One study that asked experienced shelter staff to make a visual identification and then compared their assessment to a DNA test found that only ¼ had actually identified the “predominant ‘dog breed’”. The American Veterinary Medical Association published a document entitled, “Welfare Implications of The Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention,” in which the Association explains the importance of the prevalence and popularity of particular breeds in skewing statistics.

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, and the behavior of the victim.  All of these factors interact. There are other factors that play into a dog’s tendency to bite. One study found 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.

The experts also agree that the best predictor of a dog’s behavior comes from an evaluation of individual adult dogs — not selection based on breed.

Co-Sponsors

State Senators:

Name District/Address
Anne M. Gobi Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex
Jason M. Lewis Fifth Middlesex
Sal N. DiDomenico Middlesex and Suffolk
Joanne M. Comerford Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester
Patrick M. O’Connor Plymouth and Norfolk
Joan B. Lovely Second Essex

State Representatives:

Name District/Address
David M. Rogers 24th Middlesex
Steven G. Xiarhos 5th Barnstable
Jack Patrick Lewis 7th Middlesex
Adam J. Scanlon 14th Bristol
Steven C. Owens 29th Middlesex
Peter Capano 11th Essex
James K. Hawkins 2nd Bristol
Jessica Ann Giannino 16th Suffolk
Thomas M. Stanley 9th Middlesex
Tackey Chan 2nd Norfolk
Natalie M. Higgins 4th Worcester
Jacob R. Oliveira 7th Hampden
Michelle L. Ciccolo 15th Middlesex
Marjorie C. Decker 25th Middlesex
Carmine Lawrence Gentile 13th Middlesex
Christopher Hendricks 11th Bristol
Danillo A. Sena 37th Middlesex

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