New Campaign Takes on Racist, Classist Dog Breed Restrictions

Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) announced the launch of the Dogs, People, and Housing Insurance Project to end exclusionary dog breed restrictions in the housing insurance industry. These restrictions are often used as a way to discriminate against individuals based on their class or race.  This initiative reflects AFF’s unwavering commitment to challenge laws and policies that keep dogs and people apart.

“The insurance industry uses arbitrary dog breed lists as a way to discriminate against homeowners and renters and deny them coverage,” said Animal Farm Foundation’s Executive Director, Stacey Coleman. “People often find out too late about dog breed restrictions, leaving them with the stark, difficult choice: either go underinsured, uninsured, or end their relationship with their beloved pet. No one should ever have to make that choice, especially since targeting pet owners because of what their dog looks like has never been shown to produce the desired results, not in the insurance industry, or anywhere. The Dogs, People, and Housing Insurance Project crowdsources the power of dog owners affected by breed-restrictions to end a practice that often results in housing insecurity while traumatizing people and their pets for no proven benefit.

Dog breed-restrictions in the insurance industry are steeped in discrimination against the people society associates with the targeted dogs. In many areas of the country, this means lower-income Black and Brown people. 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,” discussed how “pit bull” dogs became associated with gang violence by urban youths, as well as the hip-hop music scene. She also reported the results of a study by Erin Tarver, The Dangerous Individual(’s) Dog: Race, Criminality and the ‘Pit Bull’ showing that “pit bull” dogs were perceived as most commonly belonging to people of color–specifically, young, Black males.

This discriminatory practice is reflective of a history of racism in the insurance industry. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the industry’s regulatory and standards oversight agency, made a commitment to address racist and discriminatory underwriting practices, admitting “racial discrimination has been part of the insurance sector landscape for more than 250 years.” Yet this practice persists.

Victims of discrimination and advocates who know of cases of discrimination are encouraged to access, which features easy-to-access and customizable sample letters that people can send to their commissioner as well as tips for filing a complaint form or how to call to share personal experiences.  The site also includes information on how animal welfare workers can share their experiences with pet relinquishment due to insurance discrimation. It is a well-designed, user-friendly site that makes it much more manageable for people to understand their rights, tell their stories and file complaints. The goal is to end breed restrictions and increase access to housing for dog owners, as well as ensure that everyone can obtain and keep needed, and often required, insurance.

“By ending these exclusionary breed restrictions, we will chip away at the long-time practice of big insurance justifying reasons not to ensure the consumers they call “high risk” which is often just code for race or class discrimination.  More people and pets can stay together in safe, secure, and adequately insured homes,” Coleman concluded.