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Originally published Monday, March 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Bill would outlaw insurers' bans on certain dog breeds

The only problem Dee Robison has with her favorite Doberman pinscher, Darby, is that the 90-pound pooch gets a little jealous when she turns...

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The only problem Dee Robison has with her favorite Doberman pinscher, Darby, is that the 90-pound pooch gets a little jealous when she turns her attention toward the television.

"He'll just stand there with his face in my face," she said. "But that's just because he's an absolute love bug."

Most insurance companies don't seem to agree, and their policy of denying insurance to owners of certain dog breeds has lawmakers in Washington and elsewhere moving to outlaw the practice.

Robison's homeowners insurance was canceled a few years ago after a flood in a nearby town. The dog breeder in Graham, Pierce County, called several insurance companies in search of a new policy, but each one rejected her when they discovered she owned several Dobermans.

She found insurance only after an agent — and fellow Doberman owner — made a few phone calls for her.

For Robison, it was a hassle. To one state legislator, it's discrimination.

Rep. Tom Campbell's proposal would prohibit insurers from denying or canceling homeowners policies based on the breed of dog they own. The bill passed the House 71-25 and is now before the Senate.

"If we did the same thing to people, it would be called bigotry," said Campbell, R-Roy. "They should base their opinion on behavior, not on the types of dogs."

Two other states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — have similar laws, according to the American Canine Foundation, an organization that promotes responsible dog ownership.

Several insurance companies across the country regularly deny homeowners insurance to people owning dog breeds they consider dangerous.

Allstate Insurance's list of prohibited dogs includes pit bulls, Akitas, wolf hybrids, Rottweilers, chow chows and Presa/Dogo Canarios. The company also allows only one German shepherd or Doberman per house and a maximum of three dogs total.

"We're in the business of evaluating risk, and based on what we know those dogs pose a higher risk," said Darcy Olson, Allstate's spokeswoman.

Insurance companies pay out about $1 billion each year because of dog bites, according to Michael Harrold, a regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

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The insurers aren't the only ones restricting breeds of dogs. Cities in Washington and other states also have restrictions on particular pooches.

The Pasco City Council passed an ordinance in January requiring pit-bull owners to get a permit, post signs around their yards and carry insurance policies.

Dog advocates and supporters of Campbell's bill say such rules are unfair — and put good dogs and their owners in hard positions.

Deeds, not breeds, should define a dog as dangerous, they say.

Campbell said the nastiest dog he ever met was a Chihuahua. Glen Bui, vice president of the American Canine Foundation, said little Pomeranians have caused serious injuries.

Under Campbell's proposal, insurance companies could restrict someone's coverage only if he or she owns a "dangerous dog," or a dog that has threatened someone in some way.

"The owner makes the dog a dangerous dog," Bui said. "It's the lack of socialization, training and the owners that are the problem."

In a study published in a 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, pit bulls and Rottweilers accounted for more than half of the 27 deaths caused by dog bites in 1997 and 1998. Both breeds are often bred and trained for aggression.

But the study advises against breed-specific rules because fatal attacks represent only a small portion of the bites and it can be hard to determine the exact breed of a dog.

Some dog advocates dispute the study's results, saying it didn't include all the attacks that happened or compare the incidents per breed to its population.

Harrold said insurance companies typically use information from their own claims to determine what dogs are dangerous.

Harrold, who says he loves dogs as much as the next guy, said bills such as Campbell's essentially give misbehaving dogs "a free bite" before insurance companies can take action.

"It's not a good way of going about doing business," he said.

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