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March 25, 2004 - Breeds too risky for Allstate

Emmanuel Gionet says his crossbred dogs are loving, friendly pooches that he considers as the kids he doesn't have. At worst, they may take a bite out of crime as makeshift guard dogs.

The problem for Gionet is his home insurance company, Allstate, says the dogs are vicious and could take a bite out of the next-door neighbour. That's led the company to cancel Gionet's current insurance policy because of the breed of dogs.

Allstate has blacklisted four breeds as high-risk liabilities to homeowners: Rottweilers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and pit bulls.

Gionet's dog Sasha is a three-year-old Labrador-Rottweiler cross, while his second canine, Daisy, is a four-year-old shepherd-Doberman-Labrador. He received a letter Tuesday from Allstate notifying him his insurance won't be renewed.

"I was dumbfounded and incensed that someone could make a blanket decision like this because these are loving dogs," said Gionet. "These dogs are being painted with a broad stroke and I've never had problems with them."

When applying to renew his insurance, Gionet jokingly told an Allstate agent that he didn't need an alarm system because he has the best alarm possible -- dogs. He openly divulged the breeds and a short time later he received the letter.

"My fear is that these dogs and any dog with these breeds will be banned by insurance companies and then won't be adopted from shelters. It's a total knee-jerk reaction," he said.

Allstate spokeswoman Karyn Toon said the policy change wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision.

"We won't transfer the risk of those dogs that can be trained as guard dogs. We never wrote them as guard dogs (for businesses), so we're not going to write them in personal property situations," Toon said.

Allstate conducted a risk review in mid-2003 on dog liability and found the four breeds were high risk, she said. They instituted the policy prohibiting those dogs a short time later. However, she said pet liability is nothing new.

"We have certainly for many years asked what pets people own. Pets can incur loss. Everything from a cat peeing on a carpet, to high-risk dog-bite liability claims," she said. "The liability can be as high as $1 million for one dog bite."

Louise Bremness, spokeswoman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said banning specific breeds doesn't appear to be a trend among insurance companies.

"I'm just aware of one insurance company and that is Allstate," Bremness said, but added each company is free to set their policies as they wish.

"Some insurance companies choose not to write high-end homes. They don't want that exposure. The same can be held with this," she said.

Gionet said he's found a Calgary-based insurance broker who has agreed to insure him and provide a "security discount" because the dogs deter burglars. But he said the home insurance was always a second thought after the pets.

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