ANIMAL WATCH-In 2020, over 5,800 USPS mail carriers were victims of dog attacks and California was #1 in the nation, with 782 of those bites. That was almost double the number in Texas -- the #2 state -- with 402.
Also, in California this year, Los Angeles Animal Services’ recently retired-GM Brenda Barnette clawed her way to the top of the pack of statewide animal shelters competing for the acclaim (and monetary incentives) of becoming “No Kill.” This was achieved by releasing far too many aggressive Pit Bulls and other dogs with violent histories from the six City shelters in order to achieve the dubious distinction of a 90 percent “live save” rate.
(See reports on CityWatchLA.com and DogBiteLaw.com.)
Why was public safety sacrificed in this effort throughout the state (and nation) by the release of known-dangerous animals to unsuspecting adopters seeking to save a “misunderstood” dog, which later attacked the adopter, a child, a neighbor—or perhaps a letter carrier?
“No Kill” is a title bestowed by Best Friends Animal Society of Utah (formerly the Process Church of the Final Judgment), (formerly the Process Church of the Final Judgment), which has never run a municipal shelter but, along with the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the U.S., advocates widely and specifically for the adoption of Pit Bulls.
“In 2020, the combination of pit bulls (33), additional bully breeds (4) and mastiff-type guard dogs and war dogs (3). . .accounted for 87% (40) of all dog bite-related deaths,” reports Dogsbite.org.
DOG-BITE INSURANCE CLAIMS COST RISING
Although pet ownership increased in 2020, this did not result in more reported bites -- possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing more owners to stay home and control their pets and less opportunity for contact with strangers -- but the average cost of dog-bite claims saw a double-digit increase.
The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reports that dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2020 fell by 4.6% from the previous year, to 16,990 from 17,800, their study found. But the cost of claims paid by insurance companies rose by 7.1% from $796.8 million in 2019 to $853.7 million in 2020 -- with the average cost per claim up 12.3% (from $44,760 to $50,245 in 2020).
Also, according to an NW Insurance report, the average cost paid per dog bite claim was $50,245 in 2020 compared to $44,760 in 2019.
DOG-BITE LIABILITY IS MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR PROBLEM IN U.S.
The increase from this last year is not an isolated event. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 62% from 2003 to 2020. Although medical costs can be blamed for part of that jump and it is undoubtedly due to the greater severity of bites by breeds that were not commonly pets in intensely populated areas until recently, higher settlements and jury awards are also being awarded, the I.I.I. reports.
The study found the higher costs are also due to increased incidents related to children, cyclists, and the elderly being knocked down by dogs and suffering costly injuries. (Dog owners are responsible for the damages, whether or not they are insured and must pay any excess amount beyond their coverage.)
ANIMAL ADVOCATES’ PROPOSAL REGARDING ‘BLACKLISTS’
Before you consider adopting or purchasing a dog, be aware that “high-risk” breeds can affect your ability to obtain insurance.
Many insurers have a list of “potentially high-risk dog breeds that guide their underwriting decisions; with Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers usually at the top of the list -- for a reason. Not all dogs of these breeds bite, but those that do can inflict far greater damage.
“In 2020, 54% (25) of dog bite fatalities occurred in states with a preemption law barring breed-specific laws; pit bulls carried out 80% (20) of these attacks. 54% (25) of fatalities occurred in the Southern United States; where pit bulls accounted for 76% (19),” Dogsbite.org found in analyzing the stats.
Rather than allowing the companies the freedom to insure higher-risk-rated dogs at a different premium or to require a waiver of liability for the dog, a coalition of major animal advocacy groups has called for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to take action to determine whether insurers' dog-breed “blacklists” are justified, Investopedia.com reports.
In November 2020, a 25-page White Paper was issued by seven major national animal welfare and advocacy organizations, including the AKC, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Best Friends Animal Society.
It challenges what the groups cite as “discriminatory impacts of the insurance industry’s use of dog breed lists to deny homeowner and renter's insurance coverage and renewals, create policy exclusions, and limit coverage,” writes Susan J Wells.
It also contends that the "use of breed lists has a detrimental impact on three groups -- uninformed consumers, people of color, and consumers of low or moderate means."
The paper is populated with photos of children with Pit Bulls and makes such inane statements as, “Corgis and Chihuahuas are statistically more aggressive than Great Danes. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find an insurance company denying someone homeowner’s insurance because they owned a Corgi.”
Certainly, smaller dogs may need to protect themselves more often from unruly children (or adults) due to their size and inability to distance themselves from even unintended harm and pain, but the extent of injuries inflicted cannot be compared to that of a large dog that attacks -- often without apparent provocation. This contention insults the intelligence of even a layperson.
The groups are calling for the NAIC to study the issue, collect industry data, and report on whether breed lists should be a legitimate underwriting variable.
WHY DID HUMANE GROUPS CITE “PEOPLE OF COLOR OR…LOWER MEANS”?
Is this because reaching “No Kill” requires dumping even more Pit Bulls and other known-dangerous dogs (with exemptions from adoption fees) on residents who cannot afford to adopt or who may want an aggressive guard dog for property protection?
Is giving free Pit Bulls and other dogs to the “uninformed, people of color or consumers of lower or moderate means” (as the White Paper termed it) just another way for the shelters to reach the Best Friends’ “No Kill” goal, rather than protecting all of the public by euthanizing them—which is their responsibility for the safety of animals and humans?
IS THIS ‘WHITE PAPER’ APPROPRIATE OR INSULTING?
The white paper claims that the current practice of assessing risk, in part, based on dog breed inordinately impacts people of color. Doesn’t this claim stereotype people, based on race or ethnicity?
Is this just a condescending effort (by groups which solicit millions of donated dollars) to divert attention away from the statistically predictable genetic temperament of dog breeds by inferring that the income or ethnicity/race of the dog owner is a factor in who owns -- or wants to own -- these breed?
Shouldn’t insurance companies’ base rates for ALL homeowners on the choices they make? The rates for insurance are shared equally by all consumers and should be governed by the amount of risk statistically posed by a particular dog (including its breed), not the owner’s skin color or economic status.
The statement also implies that people of color and/or lower means are likely to be “uninformed” and are a significantly higher-risk consumer group and need special advocacy for that reason.
The groups are calling for the NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) to study the issue, collect industry data, and report on whether breed lists should be a legitimate underwriting variable.
The NAIC’s responsibility is also to use the insurance companies’ actuarial tables to determine reality.
All homeowners share increases in industry premiums, whether or not they own a dog.
DOG OWNERS' HAVE RESPONSIBILITY TO CONTROL THEIR DOGS
There is an abundance of information on how to properly and humanely confine and control dogs and, regardless of insurance, every dog owner has this responsibility. If a dog is unmanageable, there are resources locally and online with advice.
An unruly (but not aggressive) dog will usually respond to training. However, be sure to determine the credibility of anyone you consider for this service. The best recommendations come from others who have experienced similar situations and resolved them effectively and humanely.
However, be aware that many "dog trainers" who advertise with glowing accolades have merely completed online training and certifications and have little, if any, personal experience.
Do not allow anyone to use abusive methods in handling your pet and do not leave your dog with a stranger who claims to be able to change behavior. If you want lasting change in a dog’s behavior, you need to be involved in the training. Otherwise, the dog learns to behave well when with the trainer, but not when the trainer is not there.
STOPPING THE RISING COSTS
Vicious dog attacks play a major role in the rise in the rapidly rising cost of homeowners’ insurance for everyone. They also are resulting in an increase in debilitating injuries or death. This is not controllable by just raising insurance premiums but by demanding more responsibility by the perpetrator.
Forcing law-abiding citizens and responsible dog owners (at any income level) to pay the costs through higher insurance rates does not solve the problem.
In the case of dangerous dogs, it is the responsibility of the shelters to do the job for which they are paid millions of dollars. That is to assure that any animal released does not have a known record of violence and there is no indication it will become a threat to innocent victims in the home or outside.
It also requires greater enforcement of animal control laws, which allow agencies to remove dogs that pose and obvious threat or have already harmed someone and humanely euthanize them.
Lesser violations (such as proper confinement, barking) can -- and should be addressed by meaningful monetary and/or administrative citations that remain a permanent record and track whether a particular animal’s behavior is becoming progressively more dangerous.
The next time you are asked for a donation for a sad-faced animal by any “humane” group or shelter, look at how their advocacy money is being spent. Are they really part of the solution, or are they paying exorbitant executive salaries to people who write “White Papers” which will increase insurance premiums and contributing to an on-going problem of releasing or recycling dangerous dogs in order to solicit more money?
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and contributing writer to CityWatchLA.com.) Photo: Getty Images / Stock Photos. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.