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Larry Cunningham Place of Publication: Part I of this article gives an overview of the problem: Part II analyzes the major scientific studies on dog bites, showing that no one has adequately proven that some breeds are more inherently dangerous than others.
Part III shows that breed discrimination and breed-specific legislation are opposed by most Proactive prevention in animal cruelty and animal groups. Part IV demonstrates that insurers have been ignoring the unique and special role that pets play in millions of American homes.
Part V shows how the insurance industry is a highly regulated industry which subjects itself to legislative control where, as here, the public is being harmed by underwriting decisions not driven by actuarial justification. I brought my two dogs with me: Saffy a 4-year-old mixed breed whose parents were a fluffy red Chow Chow and a big black Labrador Retriever and Semona a 2-year-old Rottweiler.
Neither Semona nor Saffy has ever bitten anyone. Neither has shown any aggressive tendencies. Both are extremely playful and friendly animals. Much to my surprise, dozens of insurance companies denied my application outright.
Semona is a Rottweiler and Saffy is half-Chow. Rottweilers and Chow Chows are on the "blacklist" of dog breeds. Some insurance companies believe they, along with Pit Bulls, Huskies, Doberman Pinchers, and other specified breeds, are more likely to bite humans and, in turn, cause liability claims to be brought against their owners.
Even mixed breeds, like my half-Chow Saffy, are blacklisted. This practice is known by many dog owners as "breed discrimination. After weeks of calling nearly every insurance agent in Lubbock, I was able to obtain insurance through the Texas Farm Bureau, an organization that advocates for farmers and farming issues.
Anyone who knows me can confirm that this dilemma would have been easy to resolve; I would have chosen my furry family members over home ownership. Their decisions are based solely on the breed of the animal, notthe individual characteristics of the particular dog.
Dog bites are certainly a public health concern. The insurance industry has prejudged entire breeds of dogs as being "too risky," instead of taking a more reasonable dog-to-dog approach to risk assessment.
Major veterinary and breed registry organizations have strongly opposed breed discrimination in insurance. Authors of scientific studies on dog bites have even argued against the use of their data to support breed-based decision-making by insurers and legislatures.
Dog owners across the country have spoken out about the horrible choice they have been forced to make between obtaining insurance and keeping their dogs.
There has existed a historic tension between risk classification and social policy. Classification and insurability decisions are usually "actuarially justified"-that is, the insurance company has identified a statistical correlation between a characteristic and increased risk. Actuarial justification is frequently cited by insurers as a reason to avoid social regulation.
Insurers exist to make a profit for their shareholders. They do so by minimizing risk which, in turn, minimizes claims paid out. Actuarial justification is only the first step in determining the social propriety of a proposed underwriting mechanism. Social utility of the risky conduct must also be considered.
Statutes across the United States are replete with examples of legislatures overruling actuarially justified practices in favor of competing social policies. As a result, insurance companies began to refuse to write policies in these high-risk neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods in question were often economically depressed and occupied by members of racial or ethnic minorities. Legislatures and courts stepped in to prohibit red-lining, despite the actuarial justification for the practice. Even without considering the high social utility of pet ownership, insurers have been unable to demonstrate an actuarial justification for discriminating based on breed.
As the multidisciplinary Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions concluded, "[d]og bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. When the social utility of pets is added to the equation, breed discrimination becomes even more unreasonable.Summary: Part I of this article gives an overview of the problem: dog breed discrimination by insurers, as well as a related problem of breed-specific legislation by some states.
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