“Your worst enemy can be your best friend; and your best friend, your worst enemy” - Bob Marley

Following news of the rising cases of dog bites and its effects on human lives last week, it is becoming life threatening as I personally wish, not only to protect my dogs and cats, but also to protect myself and third parties against infected bites that could possibly lead to deaths and consequent legal suits. 

Imagine your dog biting a neighbour’s child to death and no form of insurance to provide compensation to the bereaved neighbour! This week’s piece is dedicated to having a closer look at what seems far away but very close – dog bites can be as deadly as road accidents!

Why the love for pets?

The highly touted Ghanaian hospitality encompasses our love for pets such as cats and dogs. Domestic cats, in particular, have often been likened to humans, as their mating encounters are often shrouded in secrecy. 

For people of my origin, the ‘nyebros,’ and some other ethnic groups in Ghana, cat meat is a special delicacy and highly alluring. For those of us in the ‘cats confederation,’ the mere sight of us typically irritates and scares cats in our neighbourhood. No wonder my personal cat takes to its heels anytime it sees me with a nylon sack! Paradoxically, the same cat offers my visitors warm receptions.

Unlike cats, dogs, which are our bosom friends, are quite visible with their shamelessly open mating sessions. Besides providing companionship and security, dog meat is a delicacy for some ethnic groups in Ghana. In fact, across Ghana, dog meat is gradually taking over from the other traditional meats such as beef and mutton, because the latter have become too monotonous for consumption. 

Cats and dogs as pets

In the Western World, some  people have willed their properties to cats and dogs because of the love they have for them as much as they do for humans!

In most parts of Asia, the killing of these pets is unlawful, and constitutes first degree felony with a prison sentence. Notwithstanding the sanitary and animal rights concerns, however, Koreans, for instance, relish dog meat, indigenously called ‘gaegogi.’ Meanwhile, in most Ghanaian homes, cats and dogs are valuable and often used for three major purposes which are companionship, security and nutrition. Their nutritional usage, in particular, poses a challenge for their insurance underwriting. 

The Mirror, the lifestyle newspaper of the Graphic Group, a couple of years ago, carried a story on the proliferation of pet shops in Accra, an indication that there could be a growing need for pet insurance. 

Giving their increasing significance, therefore, most pet owners are now concerned about how to maintain the health of their pets; leading to an increase in the market for pet insurance. However, it is rare to have them talk about protection of their own lives and those of other people from the use of these pets.

Rabies under pet insurance

After a dog bite, medical practitioners would often seek to know if there is any history of vaccination, including that of rabies or if the dog just bites without being provoked, or simply gets missing or gets knocked down by a moving vehicle or exhibits abnormal behaviour, including hyperactivity or extreme calmness. 

The facilities for the vaccines are not available in all health facilities nationwide. For example, in the Greater Accra Region, the anti-rabies vaccines can mainly be accessed at the Adabraka Polyclinic leaving out Kokrobite, Ada, Kpone, Tema, Pokuase which are all sparsely distributed major parts of the most populated region in Ghana. 

History of pet insurance

The very first pet insurance policy was underwritten in England in 1890 by Claes Virgin, with an initial focus on horses and livestock, but later extended to other pets in 1947 including cats and dogs. 

Other countries later embraced the concept, with the United States selling its first pet insurance in 1982. By the end of 2009, Sweden recorded the highest pet insurance patronage, followed by Britain.

Pet insurance and how it works

Pet insurance simply refers to an insurance cover that pays, partly or in total, for veterinary treatment of the insured person's ill or injured pet. In some cases, a lump-sum benefit may be paid when the pet dies, or if it gets missing or disappears. 

Pet insurance is, typically, a form of property insurance, where for instance, insurers may offer pet owners discounts and "excess" premiums akin to property insurance. 

Moreover, the insurer may either pay off the agreed benefit sum in full or up to 90 per cent of the veterinary costs. Thus, the policy compensates the pet owner after the pet has received medical care and the owner submits a claim to the insurer. 

Lately in the advanced parts of the world, however, many insurers also pay for routine medical care, including preventive vaccinations, dental care, as well as extended treatments such as physiotherapy and acupuncture. The pet owner would, typically, pay the amount due the veterinarian and then forward a claim for reimbursement.

Types 

There are two known types of pet insurance policies: the lifetime and the non-lifetime.

Lifetime: This provides cover for a pet throughout its lifetime, so that conditions previously claimed for will not prejudice similar future claims. 

However, there are applicable limits “per condition”, “per year”, “per pre-existing condition” etc. Here, it is incumbent on the pet owners to be clear about their policy requirement.

Non-lifetime: This provides cover for a pet for new medical conditions other than those previously claimed for. Thus, upon annual renewals, a condition that has been claimed for in the previous year will be excluded in the new cover. If that condition requires further treatment, it becomes the pet owner’s responsibility.

Meanwhile, there are limitations on pre-existing medical conditions. These are measures often adopted by insurers to prevent fraud. 

On a rather positive note, it guarantees pet owners an incentive to insure younger pets, with often low veterinary costs, since they are still infants. 

Some policies for dogs also cover third-party liability insurance. For example, a victim of a dog bite may be compensated by the insurer. This is where the focus should be now as the rising cases of dog bites are becoming alarming.

Pet insurance in Ghana 

Technically, there is nothing uninsurable in the Ghanaian insurance market provided all the required conditions are met. 

However, our craving to have dog and/or cat meat in our pepper soup, coupled with the fact that consumption of these pets is not outlawed, somehow discourages insurers from underwriting pet insurance. 

Besides, rabies in dogs for instance, is becoming difficult to control; hence underwriting such policies is associated with high risks. 

The way forward

Apart from the fact that pets have become endangered species and as such there is need for a legislation to criminalise the consumption and inhumane treatment of these pets, their attacks on third parties, especially by the rabied ones, leave much to be desired. 

It is about time insurers started bringing it to the knowledge of the public and also include compensation to victims of bites, among others. 

While encouraging insurers in Ghana to commence underwriting such policies (if not in place already), it is incumbent upon pet owners to protect themselves by vaccination and insurance. 

Besides, Ghanaians must be wary that dogs, cats and horses, in particular, are just like human beings; their lives need to be covered by insurance as well as that of their owners’ and those of third parties. 

Until next week, “this is insurance from the eyes of my mind.”

 

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