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In everything we do, HRA treats every animal in our care as an individual. Our staff conducts evaluations to determine what type of home and lifestyle each animal will thrive in, and we work to place animals with the most compatible families. Unfortunately, sometimes the most beautiful family and pet match will never be realized, because while everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the love and companionship of the pet of their choice, not everyone has the same access to that experience.
From housing restrictions to the archaic prohibition on owning pit bull type dogs in Prince George’s County, in the DC region, ineffective restrictions that limit families from having the dog of their choice are rampant. The large dogs in care at our DC shelter often face an uphill battle to find a home of their own as many of our adopters and fosters live in housing that limits their ability to bring certain dogs into their home. Approximately 72 percent of renters have pets. Yet, “pet-friendly” rental housing often includes weight limits (e.g. no dogs over 25 lbs.) and breed restrictions; thus excluding many of the dogs available for adoption at HRA.
These policies set up arbitrary barriers that unfairly punish responsible dog owners and force many who already have these dogs to make the gut-wrenching decision to either give up a beloved family member and best friend who provides much needed love and emotional support or give up the health and security of a stable living situation.
One of the ways the Humane Rescue Alliance is working to support every family’s right to have the dog of their choice is through our role on the Insurance Consumer Coalition for Pet Owners (ICCPO). Insurance companies are one of the leading contributors to the proliferation of restrictive breed polices, as apartment buildings and other housing providers make restrictions for their residents based on their perceived liability and perspective homeowners may find it impossible to find insurance coverage that includes their dog. When insurance companies use dog breed lists to restrict and deny coverage for policyholders, consumers in all forms of housing are impacted.
The ICCPO developed a white paper illustrating the inequity inherent with the use of insurance dog breed lists that we are using to advocate to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and industry leaders in the hopes of creating change in the industry around breed restrictive policies that have no basis in science. In April, the coalition presented the findings of this white paper to the NAIC and called on the organization to investigate the use of breed discrimination lists among insurance providers.
Insurance carriers that use breed lists base their usage on the assumption that these breeds create a greater risk of liability. However, the white paper shows that insurance companies create these lists without any reliable statistical data showing a difference in risk among breeds, nor any evidence that insurance claims for these breeds are financially significant for insurance carriers relative to other paid losses. If listed breeds have no greater risk and do not actually increase claims higher than those for unlisted breeds, than the breed lists have no rational basis and should be eliminated.
The white paper also cites research indicating that the use of breed lists has a detrimental impact on uninformed consumers, people of color, and consumers of low or moderate means. Because of the implications that a breed list presents to certain groups of people, the ICCPO is advocating that the NAIC should consider breed lists to be presumptively unfair and discriminatory until proven otherwise.
Because breed exclusions in insurance may result in a discriminatory impact on certain groups, and there is no scientific justification for continuing these exclusions, the risk of a dog incident under an insurance policy should be based on a fact-based analysis of an individual dog’s true risk. Following this type of standard will avoid even the perception of an unfair bias, because the focus is based on the actual behavior of a specific dog rather than its breed.
Here’s where the public can help. Every state and US territory has a dedicated commissioner who wants to know about your experience with housing insurance discrimination. The Dogs, People, and Housing Insurance Project has created an easy way to contact local insurance commissioners to report the harms of exclusionary insurance practices. The website offers contact information and links to complaint forms that you can use to share instances of being forced to give up your family pet or other negative impacts caused by these exclusionary and discriminatory policies. If you or someone you know have had an experience with exclusionary insurance breed lists, please file a complaint with your local insurance commissioner and spread the word to friends and family.
There is much more work to do to remove unfair barriers for families and their animal companions inherent in restrictive housing policies and laws, but with pressure on the insurance industry to evaluate the use of these unjustified breed lists, we hope to create industry-wide change that will make a lasting difference for families and their beloved dogs in the DC region and around the country.
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