Tara, the Bakersfield, CA, house cat got a lot of press this week by scaring away a dog who was attacking his four year old owner, Jeremy. Amazingly the dog ran off but Jeremy still suffered two lacerations and required sutures. The story appeared on many local news sites where readers can leave their comments. Although most comments were about how the cat was such a hero, one comment caught my “insurance” eye. Someone left a post asking why insurance companies would sell insurance to homeowners with “aggressive dog breeds”. The answer is most don’t – and as a homeowner or landlord it is important that you know that.
Most insurance companies will not write a homeowners, landlords or renters policy if the insured or tenant owns the following type of dog breeds:
· American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terriers, all American Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, and any mixture thereof. Some may also not allow German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Malamutes, Huskies, Akitas, Dalmatians, Dingos, and any mixture thereof.
But so many people own them, what’s the big deal?
If you are shopping for insurance one of the questions you will find on the application that you will sign, will ask what type of pet(s) you own. If you own one of the above breeds and neglect to mention it you are committing insurance fraud. If your dog, that you neglected to mention, then bites someone, you could be held personally responsible or even find yourself arrested for fraudulent information on an insurance application. This is serious stuff. Insurance companies don’t like people that lie on applications, nor do they enjoy paying out on dog bite claims.
According to a story on NJ.com, dog bite claims for U.S. insurers climbed 5.5% last year to 17,359, breaking the record from 2003. Nationwide the average cost of a dog bite claim was $27,862.
Of course everyone wants to think “my dog will never bite anyone” but you can never be truly sure about that. (My own little Shih Tzu-Yorkie once bit right through my finger nail trying to fight me over a fish bone.) And the effect that a dog bite can have on getting insurance in the future can be monumental. It is possible that your insurer may cancel your policy and once that happens it is very difficult and expensive to get insurance elsewhere for several years. You can expect your insurance to double, even triple.
Over the last decade the population of “aggressive breeds” has increased. Just look at the number of “rescue” or abandoned dogs that are available every day. Each one of these dogs deserves a good home; just know what your liability will be when taking one into your home.
What can you do as a pet owner?
· Tell the truth. Don’t lie to your insurance company as to what breed of dog you own. Instead, insure yourself properly or know what your legal/financial responsibilities are.
· Know what your policy states in regards to animals. You may have an “animal exclusion” and not be aware of it. If so, you will be personally responsible to pay for injuries to others, or even be sued.
· Keep your dog on a leash or never leave it unattended.
· As a landlord, write it into the lease that “aggressive breed” dogs are not allowed. Spot check your units from time to time and question your tenants, as to animals, upon lease renewal.
· Before adopting, rescuing or purchasing a dog, check with your insurance agent to see if your policy allows it or how you will be affected.
May 18-24 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. For some great tips to prevent dog bites go to the AVMA website.