LOS ANGELES -- TV's Lassie is the first dog to have health insurance.
The accidental injury and comprehensive major medical coverage is being offered by The Veterinary Pet Insurance, the first company of its kind licensed by the California Department of Insurance.
Lassie, escorted to a Wednesday news conference with Mayor Tom Bradley by owner Rudd Weatherwax, jumped into a chair in front of rows of cameras and microphones and posed for pictures while waiting patiently for the mayor to arrive.
The famous collie occasionally barked into the microphones in response to reporters' questions and cordially greeted the mayor with a handshake.
Veterinarian Jack Stephens, president of the insurance company, said premiums start at $24 for accident insurance and $44 for the comprehensive plan. The average policy will cost less than $5 a month, with rates varying according to age, sex and breed.
Coverage for hounds, for example, costs more because they tend to have higher medical bills.
The plan pays 80 percent of the usual, customary and reasonable medical fees after a deductible is met, Stephens said.
Stephens said he created the insurance company because pet owners often cannot afford the increasingly expensive medical care.
'For too long, euthanasia, or just not getting proper care for the pet, has been the answer,' he said.