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INSURANCE BLACKLIST HAS TEETH SOME FIRMS DENY POLICY IF HOME HAS CERTAIN DOG.

Byline: Marie Leech Staff Writer

From behind bars, Pebbles stares pitifully at workers and potential owners walking by. There's only one person she wants to see, but Walter Baires won't come.

He was forced to turn Pebbles in to the Pasadena Humane Society Tuesday after four years together because he was denied renter's insurance for owning a rottweiler.

``It was pretty hard giving her up. I was so nervous I couldn't even fill out the papers,'' he said. ``(Insurance companies) are only in it for the money; they want to protect themselves. But it's not fair for those of us who want a certain breed of dog.''

That issue seems to be a growing problem for dog owners across California and much of the nation as insurance companies say certain breeds of dogs are eating into their pocketbooks.

``If you have a dog that's aggressive or vicious, you're not going to get insured,'' said Lisa Wannamaker, spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance Co. in California.

Based on dog bite statistics researched by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Allstate recently comprised a list of eight dogs they won't insure. On the list are Akitas, boxers, chow chows, Doberman pinschers, pit bulls, American Staffordshire bull terriers, rottweilers and wolf hybrids.

``If you have any of these dogs, we will not give you homeowners insurance, period,'' Wannamaker said. ``But it's not necessarily limited to these breeds, we look at the history of any dogs and if they have a history of attacking or biting, we won't insure you.''

The high-profile criminal case against the owners of a pair of presa canarios that killed a woman in San Francisco has increased awareness that dog-bite victims can seek recompense, Wannamaker said.

Last year, insurance companies industrywide paid out $310 million in dog bite claims, up from $295 million in 2000, said Omar Morales, spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California.

Many insurance companies, including Prudential, AAA and Nationwide Mutual Insurance, have developed their own lists and won't give renter's or homeowner's insurance to owners of these dogs. Other insurance companies will cover a home, but they won't cover the dog.

Keith Scott, an insurance agent for Prudential in Monrovia, said his agency has become tougher over the years when it comes to dog breeds.

``We won't write anyone a policy who has had an incident in the last five years (with their dog),'' he said. Prudential's list of banned dogs is much like Allstate's, but doesn't include chow chows or boxers. However, it did add St. Bernards and mastiffs to its list.

The CDC considers pit bulls, rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, chow chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas among the highest-risk biters.

Steve McNall, executive director of the Pasadena Humane Society, said many of the breeds blacklisted are not mean at all.

``Insurance companies obviously need to protect their investment, but I think it's more fair to look at the history of the dog than it is to say, we're just not going to insure these breeds at all,'' he said. ``Breed discrimination on any level is inappropriate.''

The No. 1 types of dogs McNall sees that bite involve little dogs like Chihuahuas and poodles, he said.

``But with those (large) breeds, it's not the number of bites, it's the severity of the bite,'' he added.

Los Angeles attorney Kenneth Phillips, considered the nation's leading expert in dog bite law, said it's a travesty that insurance companies are avoiding paying for bite claims.

``It's a horrible, horrible twist for not only the dog owners, but also for potential victims,'' he said. ``One snap of a dog's jaws and you can lose your house.''

``How do you tell someone whose face needs to be reconstructed or who has thousands of dollars in medical bills that you can't help them because the person doesn't have insurance?'' Phillips said. ``I can't do anything because if I file a lawsuit, they can declare bankruptcy.''

Dog bites fall under the liability portion of the homeowner policy, which must provide $100,000 to $300,000 for liability. If the claim is above the policy limit, the insured will be held liable for the remainder, Morales said.

PROFILE: AGGRESSIVE BREEDS

Insurance companies accross the state are refusing to insure homeowners and renters that own certain breeds of dogs, saying dog-injury claims have become too big of a liability. The dogs most frequently blacklisted are:

Akita

Weight: 75-110 pounds.

Height: 24-28 inches

Coat: Stiff, moderately short

Color: White, pied or brindle with or without mask

Chow chow

Weight: 45-70 pounds

Height: 19-20 inches

Coat: Long or short spritzlike

Color: Tan, red, cream, black, silver-gray

Doberman pinscher

Weight: 66-88 pounds

Height: 24-28 inches

Coat: Smooth and short

Color: Black, red, tan with markings

Husky

Weight: 60-105 pounds

Height: 20-27 inches

Coat: 3 to 6 inches thick

Color: Any color or combination of colors

Presa Canario

Weight: 84-110 pounds

Height: 21-25 inches

Coat: Short, smooth but coarse

Color: Brindle, fawn, some white

Rottweiler

Weight: 90-110 pounds

Height: 22-27 inches

Coat: Short, smooth

Color: Black and tan only

Staffordshire terrier (pit bull)

Weight: 24-38 pounds

Height: 14-16 inches

Coat: Short, smooth

Color: Red, beige, white, black, brindle, with or without markings.

SOURCES: Staff research

CANINE FACTOIDS

There are 4.7 million victims of dog bites annually.

Of that, 800,000 need medical attention.

Fifteen to 20 people die annually of dog attacks in the United States.

Bites to children make up 50 percent of dog-bite cases.

An American has a 1-in-50 chance of being bitten by a dog each year.

In the United States from 1979 to 1996, 304 people died from dog attacks, including 30 in California. Most were children.

Dog-attack victims in the United States suffer more than $1 billion in monetary losses each year.

In 1995, State Farm insurance paid $70 million on 11,000 dog-bite claims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled a list of dogs most likely to bite: pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, chow chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas.

In California, it's a felony to possess a dog trained to fight, attack or kill.

There is an eight-out-of-10 chance that a biting dog is male.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1 -- color) Walter Baires, 30, of Pasadena is sad that he had to give up his Rottweiler named Pebbles to the Pasadena Humane Society because of insurance restrictions on pet ownership.

(2 -- color) Akita

(3 -- color) Chow chow

(4 -- color) Doberman pinscher

(5 -- color) Husky

(6 -- color) Presa canario

(7 -- color) Rottweiler

(8 -- color) Staffordshire terrier (pit bull)

Box:

(1) PROFILE: AGGRESSIVE BREEDS (see text)

(2) CANINE FACTOIDS (see text)
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Aug 4, 2002
Words:1118
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