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Pet advocates seeking ban on dog breed-based discrimination for property insurance

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
CommunityState Government
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A dog in a cage

Supporters of a bill that would prohibit property insurers from discriminating based on dog breed gave emotional testimony during a Wednesday hearing on making the difficult decision between housing security and giving up their pet.

Through submitted testimony, a joint coalition of animal advocates wrote that a majority of property insurance providers deny or limit insurance coverage for homeowners and renters based on specified breeds of dogs in their homes, including pit bulls, as well as Boxers, Schnauzers, Great Danes and more large breeds, because there are misconceptions that those breeds are more likely to bite.

Jill Vacchina Dobbs, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northern Nevada, described one family that had to give up their dog after the father lost his job, and their only affordable housing option did not allow pit bull-type dogs. 

“It is the most heartbreaking thing to see when you have to now find a loving home for an animal that already has a loving family,” Vacchina Dobbs said during the hearing. “The emotional impact on those two girls and that dad was absolutely heartbreaking.”

One exhibit submitted in support of the bill by the Humane Society featured 80 responses from Nevada residents who encountered difficulty in finding housing because of their dog’s breed, including people who were denied renter’s insurance and some who were forced to give up their dog in order to secure housing.

The bill, SB103, would prohibit a property insurer from discriminating solely based on the breed of a dog that is harbored or owned on the property unless the individual dog is known or declared to be dangerous or vicious through other local or state laws. And property insurers would still be allowed to ask other questions about a pet on the property, such as the bite history of a dog or size of a dog.

The legislation is a part of a growing movement supported by animal advocacy groups to protect specific breeds that have been historically regulated by insurance companies, and some states have already taken action. Pennsylvania law dictates that “no liability policy or surety bond issued … may prohibit coverage from any specific breed of dog.”

Supporters of the bill, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Humane Society, argued that the nature of a dog should be considered based on that individual dog’s behavior and history and not the breed of a dog, and many, including a primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Melanie Scheible (D-Las Vegas), pointed out that there is no data to support the idea that certain breeds are more dangerous than others.

Opposition towards the bill was limited, as a few insurance industry representatives argued that the legislation would interfere with the normal course of underwriting and risk assessment by preventing insurers from using risk-based pricing, in turn leading to lower-risk customers paying more to subsidize the customers who present a higher risk.

Scheible rebutted opposition of the bill early in her presentation, arguing that the opposition’s written testimony had no reliable data to prove that one dog breed is more dangerous than another.

“A rise in the volume or cost of dog bite claims on the whole does not indicate that certain breeds are more dangerous than others,” Scheible said.

Wednesday’s hearing was the first for the bill, and there are no further meetings or actions scheduled for the bill yet. The committee did not vote on the bill.

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