Imagine you're taking your dog for a walk through a local park. You’re stopped by a local animal control officer and told that pit bulls are restricted from your community. Before you can tell him that your dog is not a pit bull the officer takes your dog and kills it. In many cities across America this is completely legal and not uncommon. Cases like this as well as the restrictions placed on certain breeds of dogs by insurance companies are what made me want to tell you all about the prejudices against pit bulls, why it is wrong, and what you can do to stop them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are over 4.7 million people bitten by dogs per year. Of those dog bites 800,000 people actually seek medical attention and 386,000 require treatment in the ER. Only about 12 of those dog bites actually result in death. First for those of you who are not familiar with the pit bull bread of dog let me give you a little history. The pit bull actually originated in England as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is, was a cross between a Bulldog and a terrier. They began finding their way to America in the 1870’s where they became known as the Bull Terrier. As the breed developed they became known as the pit bull terrier because they were used in the sport of bull baiting. The American Kennel Club recognizes the names American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier. Although there are two different names they are from the same blood line therefore essentially the same breed of dog.Breed Specific Legislation:
Breed specific legislation is exactly what it sounds like, legislation against specific breeds of dogs. Some of the most well known cities with bans on pit bulls are Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati. Denver first passed a ban on pit bulls in 1989. This ban is currently being fought but is still in place. Since May 2005 Denver has impounded 481 pit bulls, returned 111 to owners after certifying that they would be taken out of the city, and killed 341. Ohio is the only state with a statewide breed ban, but many other states are pursuing such legislation. There are currently 19 states with breed specific legislation that requires the owners of these dogs to take certain steps such as registration, muzzling, purchasing liability insurance or even having the dog killed. In Oklahoma there have been multiple bills introduced. One of the bills says the owners of pit bulls (being described as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Terriers or any other dog displaying the characteristics of these breeds) would be required to register the dog, keep them muzzled and leashed, in a secure enclosure, purchase $100,000 liability insurance, and spay or neuter the animal. Any violators could face a fine of up to $10,000 if the pit bull seriously injures or kills a person or domestic animal. Los Angeles, California has proposed a similar ordinance but adds that the dog must go through the AKC Canine Good Citizenship Certification or American Temperament Test Society test. They must also microchip the dog. The problem with breed specific legislation is that although legislators are targeting pit bulls there is no accurate way of identifying what actually is a pit bull. It also does not completely place the responsibility in the hands of the owner. These bans or restrictions actually cost more money to the taxpayers and do not get the results expected by the legislator. The Westminster Best in Show Dog in 2006 was a Bull Terrier. Although it is not a pit bull, in most cases it is lumped into the pit bull category therefore being targeted in breed specific legislation. I find it very odd that the winner of the most well know dog show in America is ban from specific places. Does this dog get special treatment when in goes to the cities with bans or restrictions? And if it is such a vicious dog why is it even allowed in the dog show?Insurance Restrictions:
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites account for approximately one quarter of all homeowners insurance liability claims which cost these companies approximately $321.6 million. The average dog bite claim cost insurers $16,600. Many homeowners insurance policies cover dog bite liability for dogs not included on the uninsurable list. These policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. If a claim exceeds the limit the dog owner is responsible for the rest of the cost. Some companies have begun requiring dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, some charge extra for what they call biting breeds or they do not insure the home at all. In my research I acquired the uninsurable dog list of three local insurance companies. The first list, from Farmers Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of WV includes:
Akita, Pit Bulls, Chow, Rottweiller, any Wolf mix, or any dog trained for protection.The next list from Erie includes:
All of the first list plus Presa Canario, Shar-pei and any dog predominately any breed listed.The third list, from Encompass, includes:
All of the first two plus Alaskan Malamutes, Bull Terriers (Again Westminster Best in Show), Doberman Pinchers, English Bull Terriers, German Shepherd, Great Danes, Huskies, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, St. Bernard’s, Coyotes, and Wild Dogs. One breed being added to the lists in the near future is the Collie. These insurance companies absolutely refuse to insure a home with liability insurance if the homeowner owns one of the dogs on the list. There was an instance here in Fairmont a while ago in which during one of the wind storms a guy had a tree fall on his house. The insurance agent came out to assess the damage and once he got to the house he saw a Rottweiler through the window. He canceled the insurance immediate and did not file the claim to fix the mans house. Amazingly insurance companies are well within their legal right to do this to their own customers. They use statistics to support their cases, but just like with breed specific legislation, these statistics are not accurate. Again there is no accurate way to decide what breed a dog is without registration papers. Some references say that there are over 30 different breeds of dogs that have been lumped into the pit bull category in the dog bite statistics. Therefore the statistics the insurance companies are using are completely false! While speaking with an insurance agent, the agent made a very interesting comment. He said that owners of pit bulls are not people that he or I would want to associate with. I did not ask what he meant by this comment but I could only assume. This just goes to show the prejudice is not just against the dog but also the dog owner.Temperament testing/ Obedience training:
While speaking with the insurance agent, I asked why insurance companies did not just require temperament testing or obedience training certification in order to insure all dogs. Placing the requirement on all dog owners would relieve the prejudice issues and could possibly reduce the number of dog bite claims since obviously the claims being submitted are not on the “biting breeds” since they are not being insured. The agent said that there is no where that would actually certify that a dog would not bite someone. The American Temperament Test Society performs a test in which several breeds of dogs are tested and the passing dogs are given a certification. There are also many state and veterinary run obedience training programs that give a passing dog a certification. After telling the insurance agent this information he then said that is it just too much of a liability, or in other words, cost too much money for them to insure these breeds of dogs. Even with some type of certification these breeds of dogs will not be insured. Like I mentioned earlier, some breed specific legislation requires these certifications just to be allowed in the community. Tests from the American Temperament Test Society shows many interesting facts. Many dogs expected to fail the test did not and many dogs expected to pass did not. You can find the full results at: http://www.atts.org/Conclusion:
In conclusion there is not enough evidence to support breed specific legislation or the prejudices in insurance. Both are based upon information that is inaccurate therefore the actions being taken have not been justified. In my opinion if a city or an insurance company wants to have restrictions they should be realistic and should include all breeds of dogs not just a few. I also think the responsibility of all dogs should be in the dog owner. This would curb some dog owners from allowing their dogs to become out of control and dangerous. Insurance companies could design a program in which customers who want liability insurance on their home could go through some type of training or testing before receiving the insurance. Therefore the insurance company could be comfortable with insuring the dog no matter what the breed. Also you can do a few things to help this situation. First of all inform dog owners that you know about theses prejudices, especially owners of pit bulls. Next, when you’re talking to your insurance agent next time ask why there has not been steps taken to eliminate the prejudices by the insurance companies. Maybe if we tell these insurance companies that this is not an acceptable way to treat there customers they will take action and fix the problem. And for those of you who really want to get involved call, write, or email your state and local officials and encourage them to put a bill in place outlawing breed specific legislation. The last thing I want to leave you with is a thought, if legislators and insurance companies take away our right to have a specific breed of dog what will they take away next?
Labels: breed specific legislation, insurance, pit bull