Family Pets Belong with Their Families

The dogs, people, and housing insurance project

Ending exclusionary breed restrictions in housing insurance

Breed restrictions in insurance policies decrease the availability of affordable and secure housing, prevent diversification, increase the number of dogs in shelters, and separate families from their pets.

Excluding dogs excludes people and insurance companies know it.

15 million people are at risk of eviction due to the pandemic.

70% of Americans own a pet.

Breed restrictions in housing insurance further limit access to affordable housing for millions of Americans, creating more marginalization for people of color and for those on a lower income.

What Are Breed Restrictions In Housing Insurance?

The insurance industry uses arbitrary dog breed lists to deny homeowners and renters insurance coverage and discriminate against insurance consumers. 

People are unable to get insurance or must pay a higher premium because the insurance company deems their dog “dangerous” based solely on how it looks. These lists are not based in scientific research, nor are they based on a dog’s individual behavior.

How Are Breed Restrictions Connected to Discrimination?

Bronwen Dickey explores the connection between dog breed stereotypes and discrimination in her book “Pit Bull: the Battle for an American Icon,” as does Ann Linder, a Legislative Policy Fellow with Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Program, in her report on “The Black Man’s Dog: The Social Context of Breed Specific Legislation.” Both discuss how “pit bull” dogs became associated with gang violence by urban youths, as well as the hip-hop music scene, which has been exploited by policy makers and insurers to justify excluding the dogs and therefore people.

On the subject of classism in relation to breed restrictions, Alan Beck, who often serves as an expert witness for cases involving breed restrictions, told Bronwen Dickey:

“It would be nice to ban poor people, but we can’t do that, so we have to use these surrogate measures.” 

A survey in Linder’s report shows that society at large views “pit bull” dogs as most commonly belonging to people of color–specifically, young, Black males.

The stereotyping of “pit bulls” and other dogs is a microaggression used to further marginalize Black and Brown people, as well as those on a low income. It has been coded in our society throughout the decades and is a product of systemic racism and classism.

What Does This Have to Do With the Insurance Industry?

Excluding dogs excludes people and insurance companies know it.

The insurance industry has a long history of racism through what is called “redlining.” The practice was named after the red lines lenders would use to identify neighborhoods they deemed high risk. What made them “high risk” in the eyes of the financial industry? They were neighborhoods predominately occupied by Black people and POC. That’s it. In other words, it was pure racism.

This racism extended to other industries, as well.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) admits that racism is pervasive within the industry and has formed a special commission to address the issue.

Dog breed restrictions are just another form of redlining. Insurers use these restrictions as a way to flag individuals society most associates with the targeted dogs and deny them housing insurance. This contributes to the housing disparity and prevents communities from being diversified.

How Do These Restrictions Impact Families?

While pets are property under the law, they are a critical member of the family to most of the Americans who own them. A 2016 study at Duke University found that many people will mistakenly call loved ones by their dog’s name. This is because our brains put pets and human loved ones in the same category – family.

For many, breed restrictions in housing insurance create a terrible choice: having a safe, affordable, and accessible home or separating from a beloved family member.

These restrictions do not simply run the very real risk of separating dogs from owners, they separate and traumatize families.

Financial and Practical Consequences

Breed ban lists reduce available and accessible housing. In order to keep their pet, people may need to move to a more expensive area, an area further away from their job, change their child’s school, change jobs, or a myriad of other issues that can cause financial strain and reduce diversification in communities.

When people are unable to keep their dog, the dog often ends up in a shelter. This puts a strain on community resources and funds – resources and funds that would be better serve the community elsewhere.