Now in New York, insurers can’t reject you for the type of dog you own

ALBANY – New state law prohibits insurance companies from refusing to provide insurance to owners based on dog breeds, a move that praises pet owners who say some dogs are unfairly maligned as inherently violent.

“It’s not fair to animals and not fair to owners who want to give their pets loving homes,” said Libby Post, executive director of the NYS Animal Protection Federation.

For pet shelters and animal rights activists, lifting restrictions on what they have long claimed to be unfairly slandered breeds is long overdue.

“Removing this arbitrary and discriminatory hurdle for thousands of responsible dog owners in New York City is just the right thing to do,” said Bill Ketzer, senior director of state legislation for ASPCA: Eastern Division, in a press release.

Among the previously banned dogs are pit bulls, a breed known to be aggressive. An entire industry has grown over the past few decades that encourages the breed stereotyping, critics say, including products like the muscle builder and the dog image in pop culture, as well as inordinate media coverage. attacks.

But advocates argue the breed has been co-opted by irresponsible owners, many of whom see it as a threatening status symbol rather than a beloved pet.

“There is no evidence that an animal breed is inherently more violent,” said Ashley Jeffrey Bouck, president and CEO of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. “It really is the biggest ongoing myth that you can determine their behavior. “

And these misperceptions have led insurance companies historically to have the right to refuse to issue home insurance to owners of pit bulls and other breeds, including German Shepherds or Doberman Pinschers, until Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law last October banning the practice.

It was also legal to increase home insurance premiums based on the breed of the dog owned.

Before Hochul signed the broader package on animal welfare, insurance companies had a list of breeds on a warning list, said Don Ferlazzo, owner of insurer Ferlazzo Agency in Clifton Park, who called the practice “discriminatory.”

Other races were outright banned.

“It was preventing someone from saving an animal that fell within such guidelines,” Ferlazzo said.

Pit bulls have always been bred to be fighters, he said, hence the stereotype. And because dogs are bred to be protective, they are seen as more difficult to control.

Advocates, however, claim that their disposition is a matter of “nature versus education,” and that the behavior is not naturally inherited but learned, and that the breed is affectionate and wonderful with children (the dog in “The Little Rascals “is, in fact, a pit bull, Post pointed out).

Pit bull mixes tend to dominate dogs available for adoption at local shelters.

Still, Bouck said it was impossible to identify the specific breed without DNA testing or documentation proving its purebred status.

Joseph Lisella, executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, estimated that more than half of the dogs that enter the shelter could be classified as pit bull mixes.

Typically, they stay at the shelter a bit longer than other breeds depending on customer demand.

“Pit bulls have just become an important component in shelters nationwide,” Lisella said. “They are bigger, stronger dogs and owners need to be educated to ensure that each dog is a key member of the household.”

There are several reasons why so many pit bulls end up in shelters.

Post said dogs are more prevalent in densely populated areas, including New York and Long Island. Many are picked up by animal control officers because they are unlicensed or not equipped with microchips. Then, they are transported to the upstate for adoption.

“It comes down to economic access,” Buck said. “When people have no resources, [the dogs] are not socialized and more prone to attack.

Mia Johnson, co-founder of National Pit Bull Victim Awareness, highlighted a long list of fatal mutilations by the race as proof of what they believe to be their inherent threat.

In the United States, fifty people were killed by dogs last year, she said, and 36 of the 50 deaths were caused by pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Thousands more were injured, many seriously, she said.

“The cost to the system is beyond description,” Johnson said in an email. “Victims of pit bull attacks require millions of dollars in emergency and reconstructive surgery, often over a period of years.”

Pit bull attacks are also disproportionate in number and severity, she said: 90% of injuries are in the head-neck area and almost three-quarters of attacks are of major severity.

Plus, the attacks come at significant costs, she said.

The total cost of dog bite and related injury claims paid by insurers exceeds $ 850 million per year – not including pit bull bites, according to Johnson.

“Liability limited to a maximum of $ 100,000 to $ 300,000 is seldom sufficient to cover the actual and long-term medical costs of a pit bull attack,” Johnson said., a public education site About dangerous dog breeds, insurance companies are for-profit entities and wonder why they should be required to pay for any dog ​​bite injuries if they cannot restrict certain breeds that repeatedly appear in medical studies for “inflicting more serious injuries than others.” races.

“Why pay for dog bite injuries if they can’t restrain a dog of any breed that has a history of multiple bites, but has not been designated a dangerous dog, which can involve a long judgment process? Said Colleen Lynn, president and founder of the website. “We do not know what the results will be five years after the enactment of the bill. “

The NYS Animal Protection Federation backed down and said part of the breed’s stigma can be attributed to the overwhelming media coverage of dog bites.

“People are bitten by dogs every day,” according to one white paper written by the organization, “but some breeds get more media coverage than others.”

Beginning in the 1980s, high profile pit bull attacks served to create negative sentiment against the breed.

“A chihuahua bite probably won’t make the headlines, but a rottweiler or pit bite will definitely be covered,” the newspaper said. “This only serves to reinforce the prejudices of the general public against certain breeds which are characterized as aggressive and it can serve as a basis for discrimination in insurance matters.”

Advocates also say many people lack the resources to neuter or neuter pit bull puppies, hence their rapid proliferation – and readiness to attack.

“Dogs that have not been treated are almost three times more likely to attack than those that have, and account for 95% of all fatal mutilations,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told The Times Union. “Lawmakers can protect their constituents – and animals – by supporting laws that require dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered in order to reduce the number of attacks.”

The legislation banning racial discrimination was sponsored by State Senator Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, and State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan.

While a major hurdle has been cleared, advocates now want to extend the ban to tenant insurance, a wishlist for this year’s legislative session. A bill is already co-sponsored.

Bouck, CEO of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, said the issue is bigger than ever now that the state’s eviction moratorium, first enacted in 2020, will expire on January 15. Fourteen thousand people are at risk of losing their homes in Albany. and Rensselaer counties alone, she said.

“If people are moving from their current homes, we don’t want breed to be the reason they don’t take their pets,” Bouck said.