S. 595, H. 1037: An Act concerning the use of certain insurance underwriting guidelines pertaining to dogs harbored upon the insured property
MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsor: Senator Anne Gobi, Representative Jack Patrick Lewis
Status: Both bills reported favorably from the Financial Services Committee on February 4, 2020. H. 1037 referred to the committee on House Steering, Policy and Scheduling. S. 595 referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Why are these bills needed?
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 as a high risk. Insurance is denied for many 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 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.
The MSPCA believes that the focus of any entity — including insurance companies — should be on the prevention of all bites regardless of the breed of dog.
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 they explain 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.
What would these bills do?
These bills would 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 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.
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