31 May DOGGONE DISCRIMINATION
Margaret A.M. Heine
is the principal counsel at Heine Law Group in Fullerton, California. She is licensed in California and Washington and has authority to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of International Trade.
Fluffy coat, bright shining eyes, wagging tails, yips, yaps, and licks. Nothing more delightful than the cutest puppy ever, at least to the dog owner. Dogs are not universally considered to be cute pets. Dogs can be working breeds, trained to dig out varmints, corral sheep, cows, and other livestock, flush out fowl, and do other necessary work for their owners. Some dogs are trained service animals to do things that their owner cannot, such as pick up things from the floor, open a door, a refrigerator, turn on the stove, let them know when there is on obstruction in the walkway, when it is acceptable to cross a street. Other dogs are used by their owners as support animals. Support animals are usually used for the emotional support of an owner who is afflicted with severe anxiety or other emotional conditions in which the dog provides the support to keep the owner calm. Dogs are used heavily in the military, law enforcement, and by search and rescue. These dogs can locate munitions, drugs, contraband, and persons, both alive and dead, protection and apprehension.
Dogs sound wonderful, don’t they? Not to non-dog lovers and certainly not to insurance companies. Many insurance companies seek to limit dog bite claims, and thus, either refuse to insure a home with the following breeds, or charge a hefty premium to cover the breed:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Cane Corso
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
- Pit Bull
- Perro de Presa Canario
- Siberian Husky
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Wolf hybrid
Some insurance companies base premium on a case by case basis and actual history. Be sure to check out various insurance companies if you have a dog on the breed specific list. Also, cities and counties are allowed to create their own breed specific lists for dogs which are not permitted in city parks and dog parks as well as how many dogs can be owned by a person in that city or county. California Agricultural Code Section 31683 specifically allows cities and counties to determine what is a dangerous or vicious dog.
A new effort is underway to equate dog breed regulations as being racist or discriminatory. Animal Farm Foundation is currently fighting breed discrimination in several states. They put forth that dogs are not inherently dangerous or vicious, and that by saying some breeds are, they tend to be breeds that belong to a discriminated against class of people. These arguments have also been advanced by the Animal Defense League, American Kennel Club, Best Friends Animal Society, and the Humane Society. Several animal rights groups have joined in a call to the National Association of Insurance Commissions to stop all discrimination against specific dog breeds. They have said, “The use of breed lists has a detrimental impact on three groups—uninformed consumers, people of color, and consumers of low or moderate means,”
Charging more for renters or home owners insurance would definitely affect lower income dog owners disproportionately. Also, as the majority of dogs found in county shelters and dog rescues are pitbills, it is a death sentence to these dogs if lower income persons are banned from adopting them.
An NAIC spokesperson said the request would be reviewed at the group’s spring 2021 meeting.
In California, the California Insurance Commissioner, Ricardo Lara, said it is up to legislature to set the parameters regarding breed specific lists and whether insurers in this state can discriminate against certain breeds.
California also has a total ban on the ownership of exotic pets, and there is no insurance coverage for any damage caused by an exotic pet. California Fish and Wildlife controls the enforcements of exotic pet laws. There are some pets with roots in “exotic” designations that may be permitted in California if there is a sufficient break with their wild and exotic background. It is always a good idea to check local ordinances and with fish and wildlife before taking any exotic animal as a pet. Some pets which are forbidden in California are hedgehogs, ferrets, other small mammals, some lizards, and some exotic birds.
As an aside, it is routine now that people want to take their dogs everywhere with them. There are a number of online sites where you can purchase what you need to make your dog an emotional support animal in the hopes that this will be enough to let you take your dog anywhere with you.
Don’t do it, unless your animal is specifically trained to be a service or emotional support animal. The American with Disabilities Act does not protect an emotional support animal, and allows airlines to refuse accommodations for emotional support animals. An emotional support animal is generally classified as a “pet” versus a service animal. They are also referred to as “companion dogs”. These regulations do not mean that they do not serve a viable function for their owner, but it is a much more relaxed relationship than a full service animal.
Both service dogs and emotional support dogs are allowed under the Fair Housing Act. Under the ADA provisions, however, only service dogs are protected at the workplace and in public areas, including airlines, restaurants, and public buildings.
Enjoy these dog days of summer! Make sure you and your pet are protected and safe.