I live in Denver, the current epicenter of the debate over pit bulls. My city has banned any dog with more than a 50 percent “appearance” of a pit bull for over 30 years, but this November, a ballot measure will let voters decide on replacing the outright ban with allowing pitties whose owners obtain a special license. Advocates say the measure will come down to individual responsibility instead of breed discrimination, calling for the public to “judge the deed, not the breed.”
Breed discrimination is still common in many aspects of society, including homeowners insurance. Some policies offer tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursement for damages if your dog bites or otherwise injures a guest. However, “dangerous breeds” are often excluded.
Which Animals May Be Prohibited
Stacey Giulianti, Esq., chief legal officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, said commonly prohibited breeds include any mix of Akita, Alaskan Malamute, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bullmastiff, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Great Dane, American Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Rottweiler, Siberian Husky, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and any wolf hybrid.
“Virtually all homeowners insurance companies have a dangerous breed list, which will result in a rejection of the home for coverage by the underwriter,” he says. “It is critical to obtain the company’s list and ensure that your dog is not among the banned breeds; even an animal that is ‘half’ of an excluded breed will be subject to the underwriting rule.”
He added that it’s important to ask about unusual pets such as pigs, goats, or horses, which may be excluded or require a stand-alone policy from a specialized carrier.
Loretta Worters, vice president of media relations for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute in New York City, says some insurance companies such as State Farm base policies on claims history instead of by breed.
“If there have been no claims, they will insure the home, irrespective of the breed,” she says. “Each company is different so it’s important to notify your home insurer that you have gotten a dog. Some insurers won’t even ask for the breed. Others will. Sometimes companies will insure the home but exclude the dog or charge higher rates for the risk.”
Karen Davis, a publicist for Nationwide, said the company has restrictions on breeds but it doesn’t necessarily disqualify coverage.
“We encourage customers to talk to their independent insurance agent or call Nationwide directly to see if their dog is on that list and what steps can be taken to explore coverage options,” she says.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Heather Paul, public affairs specialist for State Farm, says it’s vitally important to be honest with your insurance agent about your pets.
“The worst thing you could do is lie or falsify information to an insurance company about what type of dog you have,” she says. “I know it’s hard, but that could actually make your insurance contract null and void. Always be truthful when talking to your insurance agent.”
State Farm doesn’t have any restrictions on dog breeds or other species, except when certain exotic pets are prohibited by law. Instead, the company focuses on promoting responsible pet ownership and educating families with children about understanding canine body language to avoid bites. In addition to online education and newsletter articles, State Farm reps visit schools (pandemic permitting) with a program called “Kindness is Powerful,” which helps kids learn about being gentle with animals (and not bullying humans).
Paul said in 2019, the average cost of a dog-bite claim filed with State Farm was $43,000, and they can be much higher. She strongly encourages dog owners to look into additional liability policies that go above and beyond standard homeowner policies, regardless of insurance company.
Still, common sense goes a long way toward personal protection. Paul herself has two pit bulls and a Pug, and avoids situations that could be problematic. For instance, she might cross the street rather than pass through a crowd of people sitting outside eating food.
She emphasizes that the best line of defense is being responsible with pets – offering them socialization, training, and enrichment and keeping them out of potentially stressful interactions.
“The whole purpose of insurance is to help manage risks and to manage the risks of everyday life,” she said. “The best way to manage that risk, outside of insurance, is to be a loving, responsible pet owner.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
Published September 21, 2020