My friend Holly is purchasing her first home. She has a dog, and would like to adopt another one since the new house she is buying has a lot more room than her current apartment. She is particularly interested in adopting a Pit Bull from her local shelter.
“I wanted to adopt a Pit Bull from a shelter because I think they’re cute and need to be adopted by people who can handle this type of dog,” she says. “But, the home insurance agents I talked to told me if I get a Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Husky, Chow, Akita, Doberman, Rottweiler, or a mix with any of the above, I forfeit my coverage and no one else will cover me either.”
“How is it that people can own these animals? Shelters are full of Pit Bull mixes, but can no one adopt them and still have insurance for their homes? This just seems to perpetuate the standard of over-full shelters.”
“The problem with insurance,” she adds, “is that the most affordable one for me was Liberty Mutual, and they aren’t breed neutral. And maybe it was a sales thing but when I questioned the guy about it he told me that all the insurance companies had similar policies.”
Holly lives in New Jersey–my home state too. For those of you who know me know where I stand on Pit Bulls. Friday’s post debunks 8 Pit Bull myths. It was written by Mary L. Harwelik of The Real Pit Bull, Inc.
We all can agree that Pit Bulls are often maligned–except by those who own them or who have worked for them. I’ve posted comments about this on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and the reactions are quite emotional.
So what’s a person to do? Holly is quite compassionate, as are those of you who have rescued dogs from shelters and the streets. My friends who own pure bred American Pit Bull Terriers, Pit Bull mixes and a few of the dogs that Holly mentioned pay higher home owner insurance rates.
Talking to Insurance Agents
I spoke to several insurance agents to see what can be done. I’m starting with Kevin P. Foley of PFT&K Insurance Brokers based in Milltown, NJ.
Since I’ve heard from so many people in different parts of the country about this, the next few posts will focus on Pit Bull issues. Here’s Kevin’s take:
“I’m an Independent Agent in Central NJ. I work with two different insurance companies. Both insurance companies include in their underwriting guidelines questions about dogs. Each wants to know if there is a dog in the home and if so, what breed or mix of breeds.”
“One insurance company will not extend coverage to a homeowner that owns an aggressive breed of dog which they define in their underwriting guidelines. The definition includes Pit Bulls. This insurance company will cancel coverage at the renewal date (as opposed to the middle of the year) if you acquire an aggressive breed of dog and they find out. I recently lost a client because they got a Doberman and the company canceled.”
“The other company will, upon disclosure that you have a dog, no matter the breed, ask if it has acted aggressively or has ever bitten someone. If the answer is yes, they will decline the application. If the answer is no, the application is acceptable.”
Why Insurance Companies Ask
“A dog bite is a homeowner claim and even if it’s a minor bite (the dog nipped because it just can’t say “leave me alone, you scare me”) the insurance company is obligated to defend the homeowner if he gets sued over the bite. Lawsuits result in legal expenses that insurance companies want to avoid.”
Why Some Companies are More Restrictive
“In the case of the first insurance company, they are small and local and therefore more sensitive to claims. It could be that sometime in the past they had a very severe claim and made an underwriting decision to just avoid aggressive breeds. And when I say severe, I don’t mean the injury was severe, I mean the expense of the claim was severe. The homeowner insurance policy may have cost $500, while the claim and claim expenses could have been north of $100,000; you can see the imbalance. Also, companies don’t make decisions, people do and all it takes is for one person in charge, who doesn’t like dogs or had a bad experience with a dog to make a decision that we’re not insuring this dog.”
“The other insurance company (Travelers) is a large national insurance company. They can afford to take a larger view of the risk and accept the possibility of a bite.”
“Do insurance companies charge more if you have an aggressive breed? I’ve never heard of charging more. If an insurance company believes a dog presents a risk of claim, they would deny the application. If they thought a Parrot presented a risk of claim, they’d deny that application too.”
What Should Pit Bull Owners Do?
“What would I do if an insurance company said no? Shop. Check with your dog owner friends and see where they got their insurance. Go on the internet and seek out quotes and follow up. I would not ask, ‘do you accept dogs?’ That will make someone think your dog is a problem. Wait for them to ask the question. If they ask, answer honestly. A dog bite after a dishonest answer could void the policy. If they don’t ask about a dog, you’re fine but request a copy of the application to keep it with your policy just in case.”
“Personally, my dog died two weeks ago after 11 years. She was a Chocolate Lab. I understand how some dog owners look upon a rejection of their dog as a rejection of a family member. Don’t take it personally, it’s just business and there are insurance companies that understand, like I do, there are no aggressive dogs, just aggressive owners.”