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KNOX - Red-flag dogs and house insurance

September 18, 2016 9:30 A.M.
Cathy Gregory with Hank. (Facebook)

HANK IS a sweet-natured dog. Doesn’t use the letter carrier as a chew toy. Doesn’t attempt pant leg relations with passing clergy.

Hasn’t been a problem at all since the RainCoast Dog Rescue Society plucked him from a California kill shelter and brought him to Victoria, where he was adopted by Carly Gregory.

“I’ve had him for close to a year,” Gregory says. “I haven’t seen any aggression.”

So imagine her surprise when she went to renew her homeowner’s insurance this summer. Any new pets, the agent asked her. Yes, Gregory replied, a pit bull cross.

Sorry then, the agent replied, we won’t renew your policy.

Say what? Yes, it’s true — certain insurance companies won’t cover you if you own certain breeds of dogs, with pit bulls topping the list. Gregory was left scrambling to find another insurance provider. She felt blindsided.

She had, in fact, unwittingly been in contravention of her policy since bringing Hank home. Alerting her insurance company of the change didn’t occur to her. “It wasn’t something that I thought was important.”

The question is: How many others are in the same boat?

In Gregory’s case, the policy was with Canadian Direct Insurance, but the scenario applies to those who deal with some other companies, too. “On the application for home insurance, they would have been asked if they had any pets,” says Andrew McGrath of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “If during the policy term the insured adopts or purchases a pet, they must divulge this to their insurer. Failure to do so could restrict the coverage available, if the insurer has guidelines prohibiting insuring homes with a certain breed.”

Does this apply to any kind of claim? Well, it would vary based on circumstances, but an insurer wouldn’t deny coverage for, say, a fire loss due to the dog, McGrath says. “But they likely would deny coverage for a dog bite, if they were unaware of the prohibited breed.”

This is something dog owners need to check. Some insurers don’t care about your choice of pets, but others do. Of the latter group, each has its own roster of red-flag breeds, chosen from a menu that includes Rottweilers, German shepherds, malamutes and more. Some companies are hinky about huskies, others doubtful of Dobermans.

They have reason to fret: In the U.S., dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than a third of the money paid out as result of home-insurance liability claims in 2015, costing more than $570 million US, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The average payout was $37,214 US.

To the insurance industry, it’s about managing risk. Statistical analysis says the number of serious dog attacks attributable to certain breeds — with pit bulls leading the pack — is hugely disproportionate. Some studies blame pit bulls for more than half of all dog-related fatalities.

But that doesn’t mean all pit bulls are vicious, just that they’re more likely to do serious harm relative to other breeds. Think of it like this: An American is far more likely to shoot someone than is a Canadian, but that doesn’t mean all Americans are trigger-happy. In fact, only a minority are.

There’s also the chicken-and-egg question: Are there inherently bad breeds, or just certain breeds that sometimes get selected by the kind of owner who wants a vicious dog and raises it accordingly, turning reputation into a self-fulfilling prophesy? (A veterinarian once wrote that when a breed with a nasty rep enters his office on one end of a leash, there’s often a black leather jacket on the other.)

Gregory knows that the sight of her dog gives some people kittens. “People cross the road.” But to her, the five-year-old is just tender-hearted Hank. He, as an individual dog, has done nothing to warrant the kind of discrimination shown by the insurer. Meanwhile, if she gets chomped on by a bloodthirsty golden retriever (OK, there could be one in theory), its owner would be covered. It doesn’t seem fair.

Fair or not, it’s something of which dog owners need to be aware.

© Copyright Times Colonist 

Bob Cronk says:
September 19, 2016 06:08am

There are plenty of insurance companies that do not care what type of dog you own. Usually a larger company that is not backward in mangement.

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Denise R says:
September 18, 2016 11:40am

I had no idea about this! Thank you so much for publishing this article. I was half entertaining adopting a pitbull, but it doesn't look like that's going to work out judging from this. You probably just save me a lot of hassle.

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