LUMBERTON — Liability insurance required under a new Lumberton ordinance regulating certain types of dogs should be covered by many homeowner’s insurance policies, according to a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Insurance.
Critics of the newly passed ordinance say it places an unfair financial burden on responsible owners of bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, which are determined by the ordinance as “potentially vicious,” subjecting them to the same regulations as dogs that have previously bitten a person or pet without provocation.
Three children were seriously injured recently when they were bitten by dogs in Robeson County. The dogs in two of those attacks were pit bulls. The third was a Rottweiler. The ordinance, intended to prevent such attacks, requires owners of the listed breeds to carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance in the event of injury or property damage caused by the dog.
According to Colin Day with the Insurance Department, that amount of liability coverage is standard with most homeowner’s insurance policies. Most dog owners should be covered with their existing policies unless their insurance agency excludes the breed of dog they own.
While some insurance companies will deny coverage to people with specific breeds, others will only deny pets who have exhibited vicious behavior. Some companies, like State Farm, have taken a stance on the issue of whether certain breeds are inherently more aggressive, making it a policy not to deny coverage based on breed.
It’s difficult to say how much the $100,000 coverage minimum will cost Lumberton residents who own a dog deemed potentially vicious because rates depend of the policy holder and the insurance company. But, the cost to expand an existing policy to include more coverage should be minimal. According to the Homeowners Policy Program Manual, which agents use to determine rates, it would cost most homeowners $5 per year to bump their liability coverage from the standard $100,000 to $200,000.
City Councilman John Cantey researched the costs associated with the ordinance and obtained liability insurance quotes for his own pit bull and a hypothetical dog that wasn’t sterilized, lived outdoors and had killed a cat. The numbers he received were for liability coverage without an attached homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
Cantey said quotes he obtained for a healthy, non-violent dog would cost $662 per year, while the non-sterilized dog with a history of aggression ran about $1,100 per year.
Day recommended that Lumberton residents speak to their insurance agency about whether any dogs are excluded from coverage. People who don’t have homeowner’s insurance can purchase renter’s insurance to meet the liability insurance requirement. Additionally, some companies, like the Federation of Insured Dog Owners, offer standalone dog liability insurance.
Cantey, who voted against the ordinance, said he is concerned about Lumberton dog owners who don’t have homeowner’s insurance because they can’t afford it.
“It’s an issue especially when you’re dealing with poverty in the city in a county that’s on the low end of median income,” he said.
He also emphasized that the ordinance deems mixes of the listed breeds and “any dog that has the appearance or physical characteristics of being predominantly one of breeds of dogs listed above; or any combination thereof” potentially vicious as well.
“When you include every dog that’s mixed that reaches down to a lot of people,” he said.
A three-member panel will be appointed to consider appeals of whether individual dogs should be subject to the ordinance.
The new ordinance also requires owners of potentially vicious dogs to register them with the Lumberton Police Department for a fee of $25, along with photographs. City code already requires all dog owners to register their pets with the city tax collector.
City code also requires all dogs to bear permanent identification such as a microchip. According to PetFinder.com, it costs about $45 for a veterinarian to inject the device, which can be scanned at most animal shelter if a pet is found. The procedure is a one-time cost; microchips are designed to last about 25 years.
Under the new ordinance, potentially vicious dogs must be spayed or neutered at the “appropriate age.” These procedures normally cost $150 and up depending on the dog’s weight, gender, where the procedure is done, and whether costs for medication or blood work are included, but discount programs are offered in Robeson County. Twice a year, local veterinary clinics offer the SNIP program, during which the procedures cost $85 to $100. Additionally, eligible low income pet owners can have their animals spayed or neutered for free anytime through the county animal shelter or for a discounted price through the Robeson County Humane Society.
Under state, county and city policies, all dogs must be vaccinated against rabies. The county also offers a discounted rabies clinic twice a year, during which the vaccine costs $8.
Perhaps the largest expense in the ordinance is a requirement that potentially vicious dogs, when not inside a house or on a leash, must be kept in a secure pen. Under the ordinance the pen “shall consist of four secure sides with a height of at least 6 feet, or if shorter it must have an enclosed top.”
To keep dogs from digging under and out of the pen, the ordinance says the pen must have a cement bottom, have a bottom that is attached to the sides of the pen, or all sides of the pen must be embedded at least 2 feet below the ground.
Chain-link pens for large dogs typically cost about $170 and up at major retailers. Using prices at local Lowes Home Improvement stores, enough concrete for an 8 by 8 foot slab would cost about $200 without labor.
The ordinance is not expected to take effect for two or three months as city officials notify residents and hire an additional Animal Control officer. Cantey plans to hold an “information forum” in July.
“I just want everyone to be knowledgeable. I want the city to be knowledgeable about what we’re into and the residents,” he said. “The residents need to know exactly what’s in the ordinance.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.