Before I get started, brace yourself, it’s about to get controversial up in here! Also, all of the dogs featured in this post are pit bull type dogs (and therefore potentially are risk of BSL) that are currently living in the shelter south of Tallahassee that I have frequently mentioned. They are all in need of homes so if one catches your eye, you know the drill–let me know!
While taking the crew on our evening walk last night Rich asked me if I had heard the news about BSL Tennessee. “No? What happened?” Essentially, they have proposed a law which requires the owners of dogs deemed “aggressive” as well as all pit bulls to carry insurance on that dog. My response was “Well, I think that is acceptable if the dog has done something bad enough to be deemed aggressive but it’s bullsh!t that all pits automatically require this.” (Side note: I have a friend with a dog that is labeled “aggressive” because it was there when another dog killed a third dog. It did not actually do anything but she was given the choice of labeling it, and therefore submitting to various requirements, or putting the dog down. We could go into a lengthy discussion here, and obviously I am leaving a lot of details out, but I know that she appreciates the fact that she was given this option and thus given the choice to keep her dog alive and in her home.) So we began discussing this whole insurance requirement and Rich said, “You know, if ALL dogs required insurance, we could solve a lot of problems.” Uh, come again?
Rich said that he had been giving it a lot of thought all day and the more he talked, the more I realized, he’s brilliant! Ok, I already knew that, but I did begin to see that he actually had a really good point. Everything he was saying made sense and I think he really might be onto something. So, I’m going to let Rich explain exactly why requiring insurance for all dogs might actually be a way to solve, or at least begin to seriously address, so many of the issues that we as dog lovers and advocates are working to correct. Without further ado, I give you Rich and his analytical mind!
Hello THPL followers! This is my first blog post (ever) so forgive me if it’s not up to the usual caliber that you’ve come to expect from this fine publication.
Most days I tend to go to Yahoo! and check to see what headlines have popped up in the past day. Today while I was there I saw something along the lines of “Tennessee Pit Bull Law” in the Trending Now box. Clicking on that I found myself reading an article about the proposed law, which Morgan explained above. (Note: this is not the original article I read on the bill, but it covers the same ground.) My initial reaction was not one of disgust at the singling out of Pit Bull type breeds in the new bill (which, by the way, was a recent addition to the bill and was not in the original draft of the bill), but rather I thought that this proposed law may actually accomplish some good. As the linked article points out, some people in Tennessee are against the bill because it amounts to discrimination based on the ability of the owner to afford an insurance premium. They also argue that the real problem with Pit Bulls that cause damage is the “thug” mentality of owners that raise (or rather manage) them to be vicious, and by requiring this insurance based on the dog breed and not the proclivity of the owner is treating the symptom instead of the cause. As it seemed to me that these arguments are not entirely consistent with each other, I thought that it may do some good in Tennessee.
I know that this thought runs contrary to everything that you’ve read thus far on this blog, and I decided that I owed it to my amazing fiancee and sweet Pit Bull, Maggie, to consider the bill from the perspective that BSL in all forms is wrong and tantamount to racial discrimination. So on further consideration I decided that this bill was wrong! However, I made this decision not because it goes too far in requiring the insurance for Pit Bulls, but rather because it does not go far enough: the law should apply to all dogs!
As Morgan has written about time and again, there are many problems that are out in the animal world, such as over-population, under-socialization, and mis-information. Requiring every dog owner to carry a policy on each of their dogs can help to mitigate each of these problems (and many more) by incentivizing dog owners to act responsibly. First I will propose a basic shell of the law as I see it, and then I will show how I think it can help address these problems.
It is a basic system that requires every dog owner to carry general liability insurance on the possibility that his or her dog will cause either personal or property damage. This is basically the same as requiring every car owner to carry property and personal injury protection in order to get a license plate for the car. As part of getting the insurance coverage, each dog will be required to be microchipped with the owner/policy owner’s information. The microchip’s serial number will be placed in a national database that will serve as proof of the insurance and expiration dates, even if the owner does not carry an insurance card on them. The $25,000 of coverage that is required by the Tennessee bill may be a little excessive though (the state of Florida only requires $10,000 of PIP coverage on your car!), but the coverage should be a sizable amount.
Okay, now for what I think the benefits of this system will be. First it incentivizes responsible owner behavior. As the insurance premiums will be decided by the insurance market, the insurers can offer discounts based on what they think will reduce the possibility of having a claim filed based on each individual dog, think of these as “safe driver” discounts offered by car insurers currently. This can include things such as a small discount for having a dog complete a certified obedience course or for being spayed/neutered, a larger discount for completing a canine good citizen course or being certified as a therapy dog, and even a discount for the owner completing a course in being a good owner. Breeds of dogs may also be taken into account by the premiums set by the insurance company, but insurers are very good at using actuarially sound principles to set their premiums. Thus the insurers would actually use hard data and statistics on which breeds are more likely to be aggressive rather than emotional reactions based on perception. Then we may see Pit Bull owners get a break compared to Collie owners.
Also by requiring coverage for each dog owned, this can help the over-population problem by causing people to think twice about taking a dog that they cannot afford to insure. If people know that there will be a guaranteed cost with each added dog, they may also think about the other costs that can creep up with owning one or more dogs. I shudder to think about what would’ve happened if Morgan and I did not have the money to cover the vet bills after our two girls got into it last month. For many owners the an unexpected cost can mean that they will have to beg a rescue to take their dog, will abandon the dog at a shelter, or will opt for the dog to be put down by the vet in lieu of having to pay thousands of dollars in vet bills. This insurance requirement can at least get them to consider the potential of unexpected costs before choosing to get a dog. Additionally the requirement to insure each dog can dissuade owners from becoming animal hoarders and acquiring an unhealthy amount of dogs. This is not too mention the money that can due to someone for their health bills if a dog did snap and bite a stranger. I know Florida, for one, has a strict liability law when it comes to dog bites/attacks. An owner need not know that a dog is “aggressive” or “dangerous” in order to be held accountable financially when an injury occurs. So this really is a cost that can come out of the blue!
Although I see many more potential benefits of requiring insurance and establishing a national database where vet records and insurance coverage status will be linked, I feel like this post has gone on long enough, so I will finish with one final point: addressing the owner problem. By requiring insurance for dogs the owners that cannot afford the insurance will be priced out of owning a dog. As there may be a link between the “thug mentality” and lower income (not claiming that there is, just that it has been suggested before), requiring dog owners to pay premiums to keep the dog, we may eliminate some of the less desirable owners from the potential owner pool. I know, some of you are probably wondering about the potential owners that do not have a lot of money in their checking account, but have a lot of love to give a dog and would treat it like part of the family. However, I think that this will encourage people to foster dogs! Like companies that are in the business of using a lot of cars (trucking companies, car rental companies) can acquire fleet coverage from car insurers, rescues could perceivably get “fleet” coverage for their dogs, where they would pay less in premiums per dog than if they were owned by separate individuals. And, as part of getting this fleet discount, rescues would be required to check into the suitability of potential fosters and vouch for them.
Phew, sorry for the long post. As I said I have many other potential benefits under this system, and I may put them in the comments, or in a follow-up post so stay tuned! Thank you for sticking with me and indulging me on my first post.
See? Told you he’s analytical! I suppose getting a law degree will do that to a guy though. I do believe that there will be a follow up post to this one because Rich really did only touch on a few of the issues that we talked about on our walk. He’s actually very excited by this topic and has been talking about taking it further and attempting to get a paper on this topic published, which would be super duper awesome because if that happened, it would reach so many people.
So I’m curious, what are your initial reactions to this idea?