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Homeowners insurance is going to the dogs
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This is the case for all 26 states in which Nationwide operates, save two -- Michigan and Maryland. In Maryland, breed-specific legislation has been beaten in court by the Maryland Insurance Department, and, in Michigan, in 2003, the practice was banned by the insurance commissioner. In these two states, dogs with a bite history and wild animals kept as pets with the potential to bite, such as giant lizards, could preclude their keepers from getting coverage. In these cases, the homeowner can still potentially get a Nationwide policy, but the insurer (and others with similar guidelines) simply will not pay any claims related to the listed dogs. A spokesperson for the company points out that every case is evaluated on an individual basis.

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The outrage expressed by dog lovers forced to choose between insurance and their pups has not been lost on elected officials. Pennsylvania has passed a statute barring "breed discrimination" by insurers. Similar legislation is pending in Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Massachusetts was among the states considering a ban on the practice but decided to research the matter further.

An owner who is confident that his dog isn't dangerous could opt for coverage from a company that blacklists breeds and take his chances that he's right about the pup's temperament. Most insurance agents, however, don't recommend this approach.

Case-by-case coverage
Another way insurers have found to limit dog-related losses is to individually consider policies. These insurers say they haven't reviewed their dog coverage rules and have no plans to exclude certain breeds. For example, State Farm Insurance Co. covers all dogs as long as they have no previous bite record.

Keeping Fido and your coverage
The best defense against rising rates or an outright cancellation of your homeowners policy is to do your research and consult with your current insurance company about their underwriting policies for dogs that are considered dangerous, says Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of education and research, for independent insurance agents and brokers of America, based in Alexandria, Va.

Some companies may accept pets that have been professionally trained, and others may require precautions such as fencing or other security measures. All pet owners need to maintain all records and documentation for training and installation of security systems.

In addition to a good-dog diploma, you can take a bite out of your insurance costs by neutering or spaying your pet. This often can minimize behavioral problems. Securing your pet on your premises also reduces problems.

If these moves won't budge your insurer, Flannangan suggests you seek an independent insurance agent who represents several companies. He or she may be able to find a more accommodating home insurer

When all else fails, you may be able to purchase homeowners from one company and add dog liability coverage, at additional cost, from a firm that specializes in that type of insurance, Flannagan says. Check with your current agent for recommendations on this last-resort insurance option.

"It's very specialized insurance and can be expensive," says Flannagan. "But it may be available in your area, and could protect you and your pet."

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.'s corrections policy -- Updated: July 17, 2006
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