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New law prevents insurance companies from discriminating dog breeds

Posted at 4:25 PM, Jan 17, 2022

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A new law just took effect in Nevada that could save pet owners hundreds of dollars. It puts an end to dog breed discrimination when it comes to your insurance rates.

13 Investigates shows what questions you should be asking.

Las Vegas is a dog lover's town. But we also have a major pet overpopulation problem, which overwhelms shelters and rescues. Many people surrender their dogs not because they don't want them, but because they have no choice.

And some say the reason traces back to liability insurance.

"When we met and did our first, like, I don't know, 'get to know each other', you could just tell she was...she was the keeper."

Annette Merle adopted Neveah in December 2020.

"I was living in a house with a backyard," says Merle. "The landlord was very nice and understanding about the dog."

But due to the pandemic, the house Merle and Neveah called home was sold.

"So I was in the search to find a new place that would accept a large breed dog," says Merle.

Not an easy task.

"I mean, with a large breed dog, aggressive or not aggressive, you just are going to have a hard time finding a place to live," she explains. "Then when you add the aggressive context onto that, it complicates a lot of things."

Merle finally found a landlord willing to work with her but paid a hefty price. She had to buy insurance specifically for Neveah, even though her pooch had no history of wrongdoing. The cost? $589.20 per year.

"And that covered liability insurance," says Merle. "If you know, God forbid, anything happened with her, another dog, another human."

But not everyone has a spare 600 bucks.

Amy Clatterbuck is Director of Operations at Hearts Alive Village, an organization founded in 2011 to help save dogs and cats.

"It's heartbreaking when people come in and they have to surrender their pet that they've had for eight years because their housing situation has changed and they can't find any kind of property--whether it be a house to rent, an HOA that allows their breed--and they have to get rid of a family member in order to keep their kids in a home," says Clatterbuck.

Most homeowner associations and property managers have a list of banned breeds because of liability insurance cost.

Clatterbuck says those breeds make up over 80 percent of the dogs at Hearts Alive Village. When trying to help rehome pets, she too has seen the struggle.

"We often get the same typical, 'no pit bulls, no bull terriers, no rottweilers, answers, along with German shepherds," says Clatterbuck.

"On this discrimination list are quite a few animals you'd be surprised at, like schnauzers and Boston terriers often are on those lists as well. It's not just your big rottweilers and bully blends."

The American S.P.C.A. argues it really is discrimination because insurance companies are supposed to have data that proves an individual dog is, in fact, a higher risk.

"But they haven't been able to provide that and there are reams of research... many, many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, that have said exactly the opposite," says Susan Riggs with the American SPCA., "that breed is not associated with higher risk."

Basing risk on breed means some insurance companies charge a higher premium or decline coverage altogether.

But they can't do that in Nevada any longer. Senate Bill 103 took effect January 1, 2022. It prohibits insurance companies from discriminating based on the breed of dog at a property.

We reached out to the American Property Casualty Insurance Association who sent us the following statement:

“The insurance industry recognizes that many people are very attached to their dogs. However, the cost, frequency, and severity of dog bites can be surprising. Dog bites can not only cause skin and soft tissue injury, in some cases, they can lead to death or disfigurement. Each year millions of people, often children, are bitten by dogs. The insurance industry is working towards complying with Nevada’s new law and is interested in reducing the number of these personal injuries. It is also interested in being able to properly underwrite and rate risks. So, when there is an increased chance of loss, whether it is a poorly maintained woodburning stove, a leaky roof, or an aggressive dog, then they should be able to charge an adequate rate. As consumers face severe inflation and rising costs, this new law is a significant concern to insurers due to the large medical bills and costly litigation that often follows severe injuries resulting from dog attacks - costs that unfortunately may be passed on to consumers.” --Mark Sektnan, State Government Relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, there have been between 14,000 and nearly 19,000 dog bite claims each year in the U.S. since 2003.

In 2020, the average cost of those claims was over $50,000.

But the ASPCA. says the risk should be determined on an individual dog's history, not its breed.

Amy from Hearts Alive foundation says the new law is a step in the right direction and could help encourage more families to adopt. She adds that living in a condo or apartment doesn't necessarily mean you can't take care of a larger dog.

"We meet families that are amazing families," says Amy. "They're hikers, avid soccer, outdoor activities. They'd be perfect for one of these dogs. But then they come across the fact that their property management does not allow that breed."

Merle says her Neveah shouldn't be judged by her breed any more than a person may be judged on their race. She says the new law is a relief.

"I do think it'll help me save money. If not money, then anxiety and stress of trying to find a place in the future, if I don't decide to stay here,

ASPCA says it can sometimes be difficult for homeowners to figure out whether an insurance premium increase is related to your dog. So, check with your insurance provider and reach out to the Nevada Department of Insurance if you're not getting a straight answer.

Nevada State Senator Melanie Scheible sponsored SB 103 and provided the following statement:

"The goal of this legislation is to keep families together. In Nevada, we know that pets are members of the family and especially in the midst of a housing crisis, no one should have to choose between keeping a roof over their head and an animal by their side. No reliable, peer-reviewed research has shown that dogs of any particular breed are more likely to cause injury than others, yet some insurance companies charge higher premiums - or refuse coverage entirely - to households with certain breeds. Charging a higher insurance premium to someone based on the breed of their dog is fundamentally unfair."

"When the ASPCA first suggested this legislation to me, I knew I wanted to sponsor the bill. While hundreds of animals wait in shelters every day for a forever home, I think it is worthwhile to break down every barrier we can for people to adopt rescue dogs. Reliable research by the Canine Science Collaboratory has shown that people are generally bad at identifying dog breeds by sight. So, well-meaning dog owners who adopted a dog with short hair and blocky head may be reporting to their insurance company that they own a pitbull and being charged a higher premium, when their dog is not even a pitbull at all! I was really struck by the unfairness of penalizing someone who is trying to be truthful by disclosing their dogs' breed to their insurance company, when they could lie on the form and enjoy a lower insurance rate."

"My hope is that with the passage of SB103 people who already have pitbulls, shepherds, and other so-called "dangerous breeds" will have more available housing options. And, I hope anyone considering adopting a dog will no longer shy away from pitbulls, shepherds, or any other dog because they are worried about being able to keep or find housing. I also hope ongoing conversations about SB103 help to dispel the myths that have been perpetuated about certain breeds of dogs. I would like to see more people being open to adopting a pitbull or a rottweiler from the shelter, because these dogs are no more likely to be dangerous than any other dog."

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