GOP House Bill 1519 with seven sponsors and co-sponsors would prohibit Arkansas municipalities from banning a breed or breeds of dogs a town's elected leaders believe are dangerous to public safety.
The pit bull and its mixes, which lead all other breeds by far in the number of children, adults and pets mauled and killed each year, are the most obvious beneficiaries of the proposed legislation, along with humane shelters, many of which already regularly overflow with this breed.
My wife and our little taco terrier Benji were savagely mauled and bitten by a pit bull mix while peacefully walking together along a Harrison neighborhood street last October, but I've never been in favor of actually banning any dog breed, including the pit bull. Yet I question prohibiting any community from enacting its own breed ban.
If you choose to risk having one (or any large dog on the list of worst biters) in your household, then I wish you and your family all the best. It's probably wise you don't spend much time researching pit bull maulings and killings on the Internet.
My problem lies with negligent owners who fail to properly restrain their large dogs and let them run free to cause harm and death to those who have every right to enjoy their neighborhoods or stand without fear of death outside their own homes.
One path is to enact a law that severely penalizes those who fail to effectively restrain their large dogs who kill or maim an innocent person, something that's been occurring more frequently in recent years.
Frankly, I question the common sense of any lawmaker who would not vote to ensure this is possible.
By a severe penalty, I mean at least a $30,000 fine when a person is killed or horribly maimed and/or incapacitated by a free-running dog or dogs. The owner or owners should also face a criminal charge of negligence or negligent homicide.
I have a suspicion these consequences would provide a strong incentive to those who own pit bulls, Rottweilers and other large dogs on the lists of those most likely to attack and maul to keep them safely from potential innocent victims.
On the flip side, it never dawned on me until recently how dog ownership can affect some homeowners' insurance policies, depending on the breed. The problem stems from expensive liability claims for injuries against owners of certain large dog breeds.
Forbes Advisor reports the injuries prompting claims can result from bites and worse to causing falls by jumping on people. It should give large dog owners pause when they realize the average dog bite claim is about $44,760, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
To contain costs, Forbes Advisor continues, "many home insurance companies have lists of banned dogs--cases where the insurer won't provide coverage if a customer owns the breed. Not all home insurers have strict lists of banned dog breeds. Some take dog bite problems ... case-by-case in deciding whether to offer insurance to the owner."
Forbes Advisor said analyzed a list of banned dog breeds from 42 homeowners insurance companies to find the most banned breeds. Such lists are often hidden from consumers' view in filings made by insurers to state insurance departments.
The "banned breeds" lists are long and usually include dogs like Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes. Pit bulls of all types top the list with Rottweilers and Dobermans.
"Many major insurers' filings specifically state that coverage won't be provided to households where these dogs live," Forbes Advisor writes, "and they won't renew a policy if the presence of a 'vicious dog' is discovered in the home."
Dog advocates say it's wrong for home insurance companies to "discriminate" against dogs due to breed, Forbes Advisor reports. In a plea to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the rule-setting organization for American insurance companies, they asked: If insurers discriminate against the dog, do they also discriminate against the owner?
"The use of breed lists has a detrimental impact on three groups--uninformed consumers, people of color, and consumers of low or moderate means," the dog advocates told NAIC, according to Forbes Advisor. Uninformed consumers don't know their dog choice could affect their homeowners insurance, and may not know they have other coverage options if their company cancels their coverage.
The advocates also say a correlation exists between breeds and perceptions of who owns them, and consumers of low to moderate means have to pay more for insurance after they've been denied elsewhere, or when their dogs are excluded from liability coverage. Dog advocate groups say they want a moratorium on banned breed insurance lists.
I'd like to see a national convention of all those who have been mauled, maimed, injured or had their smaller pets killed by large dogs left to roam.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]