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NEW ORLEANS, La. — Inside an animal shelter on the west bank of the Mississippi River, dogs wait patiently inside their “dog condos” for a chance to move out.

“When someone adopts a pet from us, we provide them with a medical record of all vaccinations: all diagnosis and all treatments,” said Ana Zorrilla, CEO of the Louisiana SPCA, which runs the animal shelter in New Orleans.

In addition to medical records, the shelter gives new owners something else when they first adopt a pet here.

“Our organization also provides the gift of insurance,” Zorrilla said.

It’s a 30-day trial of pet insurance, just in case something happens within the first month of adoption. After that, it’s up to owners, which can be a lot to navigate.

“I even had a lady stop me at my neighborhood grocery store, talking to me about universal health care for pets, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is so important,’” said California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.

California is one of the few states with a specific pet insurance law. Commissioner Lara is also part of a working group with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is now putting together a model law for pet insurance in the U.S.

“The model law would help provide a framework for states to take the entire law, to pieces or portions of the law, depending on what their state legislatures want to do,” Commissioner Lara said.

The average annual cost of pet insurance is around $500 but can vary wildly depending on the insurance company, age of a pet, and location. The model law would help set a standard for things like insurance rates, coverage, and disclosures.

“Timing was right for us to sit down and work together on crafting the model law,” said Rick Faucher, owner of The Connected Pet in Arizona, which offers pet insurance.

In addition, Faucher is the board president for the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, which is also working on the model law.

“We are a mobile community and move from state to state, so some consistency and the ability for coverage to be common across the states, I think is beneficial,” Faucher said. “I think it’s going to help consumers be educated about what they’re buying.”

The model pet insurance law is set to be finished by the end of the year. It would then be up to each state to decide the next steps.

Back at the animal shelter in New Orleans, Ana Zorrilla offered some advice to pet owners.

“I would encourage pet owners, particularly those who have adopted during this COVID time, to look into a number of policies,” Zorrilla said. “And make sure that they’re looking at the fine print.”