Washington Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Washington law allows people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs.

Under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. Read on to learn which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in Washington?

Washington’s Law Against Discrimination gives people with disabilities the right to bring their service animals into all places of public accommodation, resort, amusement, or assembly. This broad definition includes any place that offers medical services, entertainment, lodging, burial services, goods, other services, food, drink, transportation, sports, recreation, and more. It also covers public buildings, halls, elevators, and washrooms; schools; libraries; day care centers’ and camps for children.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very comprehensive and covers all public places. Religious entities, however, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination does not cover any religious or sectarian school, cemetery, mausoleum, crematorium, or columbarium.

Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA’s public accommodation rules as to those facilities. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination also does not cover private clubs, except in places where public use is permitted.

Which Animals Are Covered in Washington?

Washington’s Law Against Discrimination defines service animals as animals that have been trained to assist or accommodate people with physical, sensory, or mental disabilities. Both service animals and dog guides – those that guide blind or visually impaired people or assist people who are hearing impaired – must be allowed in public accommodations.

Similarly, under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms, doorbells, and other signals
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate safely
  • psychiatric service animals, which help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by, for example, interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during anxiety or panic attacks
  • seizure alert animals, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

Neither the ADA nor Washington’s equal rights law covers what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals whose presence provides a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities (under the ADA) or to assist or accommodate them (under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination).

Rules for Your Service Animal

Under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal’s training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you. Washington law states that signal dogs (those that assist deaf or hard of hearing people) must wear an identifying orange collar.

The ADA and Washington law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.

The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it.

Service Animals in Washington Housing

Washington’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits landlords from discriminating against those with disabilities who use dog guides or service animals. You must be allowed full enjoyment and access to the home with your service animal.

Similarly, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a “no pets” provision, it does not apply to your service animal.

Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidance on service animals.)

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