People often consider pets a part of the family and desire home insurance that covers various actions by their pets, such as digging holes in the neighbor's yard or chewing up the delivery man's shoes. Most policies have liability coverage for minor acts by family pets. However, some pets, such as large and aggressive dogs, are considered "uninsurable" in basic policies. People applying for insurance should review the policies to see if their pets are covered and should reveal the number and nature of the pets to the insurance agent. The agent also should be notified if more pets are later added to a household.
The Clause That Bites
One risk of owning a dog is that it could bite someone. More than $300 million was paid out by insurance companies for dog bites in 2005, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Some insurance companies have dog owners sign waivers to a policy that forces the owner to accept full responsibility if their dog bites. Other companies ask for dog obedience certificates, Canine Good Citizen certificates from the American Kennel Club or letters from veterinarians, or will send a representative to visit the dog before deciding whether to include the dog in the regular policy.
Some Dog Breeds Are Considered Risks
Certain pets can make it difficult for a renter or homeowner to acquire insurance. Most policies cover domestic cats and the majority of dog breeds. However, some dog breeds are considered too great a risk, based on their histories and news accounts. For example, some policies do not cover these breeds: pit bull, chow chow, akita, malamute, Doberman pinscher, presa canario, rottweiler, Staffordshire bull terrier and wolf hybrids. These breeds have a history of attacking, and so some companies consider them too great a risk to cover with insurance.
Owners of snakes, tigers, lions, apes and other animals considered "exotics" have difficulty finding coverage for their pets through a basic renter or homeowner policy. Some companies offer specific riders or separate policies to cover housing exotic animals. Others require individuals to sign waivers stating that damage or harm caused by the exotic animal is their own responsibility and liability.
People looking for dog-friendly or exotic-friendly insurance companies can consult local animal welfare groups for suggestions and can search the Internet. State commissioners have lists of insurance companies. Different agents for companies have different policies, and people can shop around to find policies to fit their pets. Separate liability policies or separate riders to current policies can be tailored to cover exotics and various dog breeds. The costs vary based on the coverage and the company.
Dog fanciers call insurance companies' refusal to cover some pets "breed discrimination" and are taking measures to fight it. Some veterinary and breed-specific organizations publicly oppose breed discrimination in insurance. The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, veterinary associations and various animal welfare groups lobby state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting breed discrimination.
Michigan will not allow insurance companies to discriminate based on breeds, and other states are considering similar stands. The Michigan Office of Insurance and Financial Services states that homeowners' insurance cannot be denied, cancelled or not renewed based on a person owning a particular breed of dog. In Massachusetts, people denied coverage for their dogs can turn to the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements plan. Some companies, such as Nationwide Insurance, do not discriminate against dog breeds; however, it excludes dog bites from its liability coverage.
By Jean Rabe
About the Author
Jean Rabe has worked in journalism since 1979, serving as a reporter, bureau chief and magazine editor. She has written 27 novels, including "The Finest Creation" and "The Finest Challenge," while her true-crime book, "When the Husband is the Suspect," was written with F. Lee Bailey. Rabe has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Northern Illinois University.