Letters September 2011 Issue

Breed Discrimination, Guilty Dogs, Funky Noses, and More

Thank you for Lisa Rodier’s excellent article on breed discrimination in the insurance industry (“No Insurance,” June 2011). I am fortunate to live in Pennsylvania, one of the states that forbid such discrimination, but it still exists here due to ignorance and some shady maneuvering on the part of the insurance industry.

Dog Breed Discrimination

“My pit bulls are monsters only on Halloween!” says Lori Zimmer, president of badpress.org.

For several years at my previous job I held a Pennsylvania Property & Casualty Insurance Agent’s license. I wrote surety bonds, not homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, but the license and its associated educational requirements are the same. In order to obtain my license, I had to study a 5-inch thick manual, attend a multi-day instructional seminar, and take an exam which lasted about two and a half hours, as well as agree to fulfill several credits of continuing education per license term.

Not once during this journey was it mentioned that Pennsylvania is a non-discriminatory state – but the “risk” associated with certain dog breeds was. It was not until I became actively involved in dog breed advocacy that I learned that breed alone was not a legal basis for declining to insure in this state.

The problem is, the legal language forbidding denial of insurance coverage based solely on breed of dog is not contained in the insurance laws; it’s buried in the Dog Law portion – specifically the Dangerous Dogs section – of the agricultural statutes (Title 3 P.S. PA ST Ch. 8, § 459-507-A  . . . right below another good-to-know subsection forbidding municipal breed bans!). As a result, this information is conveniently omitted in the education of insurance agents. Further, because it is buried in the “Construction of Article” section and somewhat hard for the casual researcher to find, insurance companies who are “in the know” about it bank on members of the general public not knowing their rights and standing up for them. Folks who don’t know the law simply swallow the insurers’ tale that they are uninsurable hook, line, and sinker.

When the mother of my best friend (and co-founder of our organization) decided to change insurers for her renter’s coverage, the first agency she called asked her if she owned a dog; she answered in the affirmative. The next question was, “What breed?” Upon honestly replying, “a pit bull,” she was told they would not insure her. The next day, when my friend called and angrily pointed out the unlawfulness of their decision, he was told that the agent his mother had spoken with was “inexperienced” and that they would gladly provide coverage . . . Fortunately, they had already obtained a policy from Allstate, whose agent wasn’t concerned (in fact, hadn’t even asked) about what breed their dog happened to be (the agent himself owned Dobermans!).

Breed discrimination – not only insurance discrimination but also breed-specific legislation – does nothing to punish the irresponsible owners who are to blame for most dog bite incidents; instead, it hurts responsible, law-abiding dog owners who want to do the right thing. Further, I suspect it actually encourages insurance fraud and misrepresentation by forcing consumers to lie about their dogs’ breeds in order to obtain policies.

Lori Zimmer, president and co-founder BAD PRESS
Breed Anti-Defamation, Protection, and Rescue Society, Inc.

The next letter is in response to “What Do You Think? " (July 2011), in which Pat Miller discussed a presentation on anthropomorphism by Alexandra Horowitz, PhD. Dr. Horowitz devised studies to determine whether a person’s expectation of a dog’s “guilt” resulted in the person’s interpretation of a dog’s behavior as “guilty.”

I agree that dogs more often look “guilty” because of our body language and tone of voice – until this happened:

I have an extremely bright Border Collie-mix I adopted from our local Humane Society. I caught him once eating off the counter and used the “ah-ah” correction. He was so terrified of people that I have never used anything more harsh than “ah-ah,” and even that correction is rare. He has had a lot of positive training/clicker training, work with a behaviorist, and a course in “control unleashed” in which he learned “doggy Zen’ and other self-control techniques.

Long story short, I had made some cornbread and set in on the stove to cool. I stepped outside for a moment to say goodbye to a friend. When I came back into the house, only one of my dogs greeted me. Normally, both dogs act like I’ve been gone forever even if it’s only been a minute or two. I was a little puzzled, but thought no more of it until I entered the kitchen and saw my smart little BC cross peeking in from the dining room, head held low, whites of his eyes showing. He slinked in to greet me. I had no idea why he was acting so strange until I saw that he had eaten the top off the corn bread.

I gotta say, I could hardly keep from laughing – but now I think some dogs do feel guilt. I have absolutely no other explanation for his behavior. This dog is the brightest dog I’ve ever owned, so maybe that has something to do with it. But there you have it.

Pat Emmerson
Via email

I have to say, I’ve heard more stories from friends about their dogs’ guilt. My friend Maureen, for example, insists that family dog Carly (a former neighbor and frequent model, in her youth, for WDJ) is waiting to greet her just inside the front door when she gets home from work every day – except on the days that Carly has gotten into the garbage. Then Carly hides upstairs. Maureen says, “There is no way I’m cueing her to be anxious; I don’t know whether she got into the garbage or not until I’ve entered the house.” Pat Miller has explained this to me, saying something along the lines of, “Carly has formed a negative association between garbage strewn around the house and Maureen’s unhappy behavior; that’s all.” I just don’t know. It’s sure interesting to observe, anyway.

Having just finished the article about more assistive products for dogs with mobility problems (“Even More Support,” August 2011), I love the idea of putting down cheap runners for elderly dogs for no-slip solutions. However I must point out that many yoga mats as well as cotton fabrics have toxic materials in them and can be hazardous to a dog’s health. I feel your readers should be aware of this when searching for this type of solution for their elderly pets.

Via email

Regarding your editorial in the August issue: We all have been told that Consumer Reports tests everything they report on. They eat peanut butter, test cars, and paint rooms, for example. Since dogs can’t report true quality, the question is this: “Who at Consumer Reports gets to eat the Gravy Train?”
With tongue-in-cheek, Jackie Malcolm
via email
Yeah, take a look at “meat and bone meal” and tell me you’d eat it. Whereas, I would not be a bit frightened to eat some of my dog’s food!

Regarding “Noses and Toes Gone Wrong” (August 2011): I am thrilled and honored to have my Blissful Dog Nose Butter mentioned in this amazing article. Thank you so much. I have said one of my missions is to eradicate this heinous condition from dog noses and helpful articles such as this one really help spread the word to pet owners. There is relief for this condition.

Kathy Dannel Vitcak

I appreciate that Greyhounds’ corns were included in “Noses and Toes Gone Wrong” but felt the small side box and limited information regarding corns was less then helpful. The true cause of Greyhounds’ corns is still very debated as are various treatment methods including the duct tape method discussed in the article. The topic of Greyhounds and corns could easily be an entire article! Thanks for acknowledging us Greyhounds owners struggling with corns, but please dig deeper on the topic!

JoShannan Kimpel
Arlington Heights, IL

We’ll see what we can do; thanks for the suggestion. There are so many conditions that can plague our dogs, and so few pages in which to discuss them!

Comments (1)

on noses and toes gone wrong, I knew of a greyhound that suffered terribley from corns on all four feet, her owner tried everything to get her relief, boots, removing, duct tape... then one summer the whole family went to Colorado. During the 3 months they lived there, the corns disappered! When they came back to Florida, the corns reappeared... Is there something with the temp. , the altitude or something else that affects the corns? Have you heard of such before?

Posted by: tammy f | September 21, 2011 7:51 AM    Report this comment

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