By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
I’ve written about how some insurance companies charge pet parents of breed specific dogs more money than owners of smaller “friendlier” looking dogs. It strikes me as odd what we consider “dangerous” versus “friendly.” What may look “dangerous” to me may seem “friendly” to you.
The list of “dangerous” dogs, mostly dubbed that way by the media, include: Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Presa Canarios, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Pit Bull Terriers, Rottweilers and Siberian Huskies.
It’s What We Know
I took care of a neighbor’s Pit Bull Terrier while she was away. I got some comments ahead of time from people that never met this dog that I must be extra careful. I think if this dog didn’t know me and I entered the house, he would have shared his toys with me.
And while I was living in New York City, my next door neighbor lived with a Doberman Pinscher named Lex. He was quite regal looking. My first encounter with Lex was getting off an elevator—the kind where you can’t see who is on the other side of the door. I had a bagel in my hand, and Lex gently snatched it. I was a bit shocked, but he didn’t grab any skin—just the bagel. I was fine, and Lex and I got to be buddies.
Looking at an individual dog and deciding if it is dangerous makes sense. Looking at an entire breed and making that same decision is wrong. Unfortunately, a number of insurance agencies and now some small towns are profiling.
The resort town of Elephant Butte, NM, has made headlines because its local city council is requiring owners of Pit Bulls, Rotweillers, and German Shepherds to buy special liability insurance. Owners of these dogs are required to insure their dogs for $100,000 worth of personal property liability.
“These are the top three breeds according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that are more likely to attack people,” says Alan Briley, City Manager of Elephant Butte. “I know our council wanted to be proactive and make sure if something like this happens, that our public is protected.”
Chasity Cervantes, a resident of Elephant Butte and an owner of three Blue Nose American Pit Bull Terriers, has called every insurance company from Elephant Butte to El Paso. Finding affordable insurance has been so difficult that she fears she will have to move or put her dogs down. She recently found one company that may cover her dogs, but she said the cost would be more than double of what she pays for her annual home insurance now.
Why Towns are Getting Involved
The reason towns are creating and enforcing liability laws is to make sure the victim of a serious dog related incident is compensated. “Unfortunately, profiling an entire breed doesn’t work,” says Ledy VanKavage, senior attorney for Best Friends Animal Society and owner of three Pit Bull Terrier rescues.
“Today 12 states prohibit canine profiling because it doesn’t work,” says VanKavage. “Ohio is the latest state to abolish canine profiling.”
That’s welcome news for Julie Lyle, Chief Dog Warden of Lucas County in Ohio. “Now all dogs will be treated equally based on their behavior and not how they look,” she says.
Paul Johnson, Vice President of Brooks Insurance in Ohio thinks differently. “Insurance companies are going to continue to look at it from a breed standpoint rather than an individual dog,” he says.
Some confusion with this new law exists. According to my lawyer friend, Laura Allen who writes the blog Animal Law Coalition, “Ohio allows home rule, which means some cities and towns can pass their own laws on this issue as long as they don’t violate the state and federal constitutions. Many simply followed the old state law or at least the discriminatory spirit of it, and I would expect with the new law that many if not all of these will be changed to follow the new law.”
Stopping Towns from Imposing these Laws
“Here in Omaha, NE, the city council was seriously considering a ban on bully breed,” says LeAnn Nussrallah, who works as a groomer at Nebraska Humane Society. “We all were freaking out on the number of dogs we would be getting into the shelter that would have to be PTS (Put to Sleep) simply for the way they look. Our lawyer and shelter administrative staff came up with a compromise. Omaha bully-breed owners must have their dogs muzzled (the wire basket type) and harnessed when outside their securely-fenced yard. They also must have 100K in homeowners insurance. The dogs can pass a Breed Ambassador test and the muzzle is waived and the dog wears a vest instead.” (A Breed Ambassador test is to prove that a dog is well trained.)
States Prohibiting BSL
The following states have passed laws prohibiting the passage of Breed Specific Legislation are: Florida and Pennsylvania (although bills are currently pending to repeal this prohibition in both states), California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.