LaDonna McClanahan says that while she has never had any trouble with her pit bull terrier, her former insurance company wasn’t willing to take the risk.

LaDonna McClanahan says that while she has never had any trouble with her pit bull terrier, her former insurance company wasn’t willing to take the risk.


As soon as the company found out about 6-year-old Tara, McClanahan’s homeowner’s insurance policy was canceled. The Springfield resident was able to find another carrier, but she is now paying about $200 more a month for coverage.

The insurance cancellation is one more example of the undeserved reputation pit bulls have gotten in recent years, McClanahan says.

Some pit bulls are dangerous, she admits, but their unfriendly disposition is due to how they were raised.


“It’s their environment. With any dog, you just can’t put them in the back yard, give them no socialization and then expect them to be nice,” McClanahan said.


She has had Tara since the dog was a puppy, and since the beginning, McClanahan said, Tara has been a well-behaved dog. Tara sleeps with McClanahan’s 15-year-old daughter, and the dog never gets upset if McClanahan’s 6-year-old son gets a little carried away and starts to roughhouse.


Pit bulls also are loyal, she said.


“They want to please you. They aren’t the type of dog that you have to tell 50 million times to sit, stay, sit, stay. She got it down within three commands,” McClanahan said. “My Dalmatian, I can’t get to sit. As soon as I leave, he leaves with me.”


That overriding desire to please, McClanahan speculated, could be adding to pit bulls’ reputation.


“That’s why they are easily trained to fight. They will do what that owner wants them to do,” McClanahan said.


Jim Cunningham, general counsel for Columbia Mutual Insurance, which previously insured McClanahan’s home, said his company does not have a blanket policy against pit bulls. However, he said, Columbia Mutual does not generally write policies for homeowners who have vicious dogs.


According to Cunningham, McClanahan’s policy was canceled after an inspector went to the property and saw Tara in the fenced-in back yard. Tara barked, snarled and barred her teeth, an insurance report indicated.


The investigator snapped a picture, which was included in the report.

“The picture was taken from a distance,” Cunningham said.


Other insurance companies are willing to take risks on dogs, but Columbia is not one of them, Cunningham said. He added that he has been involved in cases where pit bulls attacked children, and the wounds were “horrific.”


McClanahan maintains that Tara was just doing her job when the investigator approached the fence. She added that no one ever told her the policy had a vicious-dog exclusion.


Jane McBride, president of Illinois Humane, said the exclusion of some breeds by insurance companies is a problem. But she agreed with McClanahan that the root cause of the predicament is irresponsible dog owners, not any vicious tendency of any one breed.


“Any dog can be a problem,” McBride said. “The only dog that has ever bitten me in 10 years was a cocker spaniel.”


Kevin Martin, executive director of the Illinois Insurance Association, said last week insurance company policies vary widely.


“Some will write a homeowner’s policy no matter what dog you have,” he said. “Some will not even write one depending on the type of dog. Some will write a policy and give you one free bite.”


State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sponsored a bill last year that would have prohibited insurance companies from charging higher premiums solely because certain dog breeds are kept in a home. The bill was never called for a vote. Instead, Harmon opted for a resolution calling for creation of a task force to look into the issue of “breed discrimination” and the availability of homeowner’s insurance.


The task force was supposed to be appointed and hold hearings over the summer. However, because of the protracted 2007 session of the General Assembly, it still has not begun work.


John Reynolds can be reached at (217) 788-1524.