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Legislature considers whether pit bull owners should pay higher … – Press Herald

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Lawmakers consider pro and con arguments for allowing insurers to discriminate against some dog breeds.
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Two area politicians are among those opposed to a bill that would force insurance companies to cease charging more money for some dog breeds they deem dangerous.
The proposed measure would bar insurers from canceling or refusing to renew property insurance policies solely because a policyholder owns a certain breed of dog. It would also bar charging more for those breeds.
It’s a policy change sought by animal welfare groups who insist the discrimination against pit bulls and some other breeds maligns some dogs unfairly and makes it difficult for renters and others to adopt animals that need a home.
Former state Rep. Jon Connor of Lewiston told the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee this week that he has a personal reason for opposing the proposed change.
Constance Veilleux was mauled by a neighbor’s pit bill while raking leaves in her Lewiston backyard in 2021. Her son-in-law, Rep. Jon Connor, is among those opposed to a new bill that would force insurance companies to cease charging more money for some dog breeds they deem dangerous. Submitted photo
He told his former colleagues that his 71-year-old mother-in-law “was viciously attacked by a neighboring pit bull” in the spring of 2021 and “sustained lifelong injuries that have permanently altered her way of life, physically and emotionally.”
Police said at the time that Constance Veilleux was raking leaves in her Myrtle Street backyard when a pit bull next door crawled through a damaged section of fence and attacked her so viciously that a responding officer had to shoot it. It bit her one last time before it died.

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“Could the vicious mauling that my mother-in-law endured have been prevented? Possibly,” Connor testified Tuesday.
“I firmly believe that allowing insurance companies to discriminate against certain breeds of dogs is a proactive approach to preventing unnecessary harm to persons or property,” Connor said.
“Waiting until there is a history of aggression in a dog before an insurance company can deny, cancel or increase the premiums on a policy is the definition of reactionary lawmaking and will certainly result in future maulings,” he said.
The executive director the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, Katie Lisnik, told lawmakers the Maine Federation of Humane Societies considers its job “to place homeless animals in loving and stable homes.”
The current law, which allows breed discrimination by insurers, makes that harder, she said.
“These policies severely reduce options for our community members and can challenge low-income households, contributing to housing insecurity, as well as causing many dogs to be needlessly surrendered to animal shelters and rescues because their loving family cannot find or afford home insurance while keeping the dog,” Lisnik said.

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“It also poses challenges to our life-saving work as dogs of particular breeds sit in our facilities for no reason other than insurance challenges,” she added.
Lisnik said that “sound science” favors the proposed change to encourage insurers “to rely on an individual dog’s behavior history to evaluate risk” instead of targeting particular breeds.
Robert Fisk Jr., founder and president of Maine Friends of Animals, told legislators the proposed legal change is long overdue.
“The cancellation or nonrenewal of a property insurance policy or its increase in the premium based on the breed of an animal is without basis,” he said. “There is no evidence that any breed of dog is inherently more violent than any other.”
Fisk said that over time “a false narrative”  has developed that often unfairly targets breeds such as Rottweilers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Alaskan malamutes, and, of course, pit bulls.
“The problem is the policy is based on a falsehood that dog behavior is inherent, when it is actually learned,” he said. “The problem lies with the owner, not the dog.”

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He said the “irresponsible owners and gang members” sometimes “train their dogs to be menacing,” but a good caretaker could train the same dog to be a loving companion.
Fisk said bad owners should be held accountable, but it is an unfair policy to place “an arbitrarily and discriminatory restriction on responsible dog owners.”
State Rep. Scott Landry, a Farmington Democrat, said that in more than three decades in the insurance field, he saw “a lot of incidents involving dogs, such as personal injuries, deaths and property destruction.”
“My observation is that certain breeds are more commonly involved in those incidents, and that is why certain companies have restrictions around what types of dogs a homeowner can own if they are going to be covered by a policy,” Landry told the committee.
He said restricting the ability of insurance companies “to properly underwrite and rate a risk will ultimately result in limiting the company options and premium rates for homeowners.”
“With this in mind, I believe it should be left to the company whether they will write policies for homeowners who own certain breeds,” Landry said.

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Besides, he said, there are insurers in Maine that will write policies for homeowners with any breed of dog.
Kelsey Gilmore-Futeral, legislative attorney for the national Best Friends Animal Society, said, “Insurance companies should not dictate the breed or type of dog a person can own.”
Gilmore-Futeral testified that Nevada, Arizona and New York have passed similar measures to bar insurance companies from using “arbitrary breed lists to refuse to renew or cancel coverage.”
In addition, a number of national organizations have urged other states to follow suit, Gilmore-Futeral said, including the American Bar Association, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Animal Care and Control Association.
Connor said, though, laws ought to try “to prevent the worst from happening.”
“For this reason, I firmly believe that allowing insurance companies to discriminate against certain breeds of dogs is a proactive approach to preventing unnecessary harm to persons or property,” he said.
“Waiting until there is a history of aggression in a dog before an insurance company can deny, cancel or increase the premiums on a policy is the definition of reactionary lawmaking and will certainly result in future maulings,” he said.
Connor said legislators should block the proposed change “and allow insurance companies to deny or cancel coverage or to increase premiums for those who decide to put themselves and others at risk by owning certain breeds of dogs with known aggression.”
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