Washington Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Washington law allows people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs, and federal law allows ESAs in housing.

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

Under Washington's law against discrimination (WLAD) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you have disabilities, you have the right to be accompanied by your service animal in places that are open to the public, like:

  • restaurants
  • hotels
  • stores, and
  • theaters.

Read on to learn more about the kinds of public accommodations the laws cover and which animals qualify as service animals. We'll also review some rules you'll need to follow when you have your service animal in public, and how these laws treat emotional support animals (ESAs).

What Counts as a Public Place Under the Service Animal Laws in Washington?

Both the ADA and the WLAD protect your right to bring your service animals into all places of public accommodation, resort, amusement, or assembly.

Public Places That Are Covered Under WLAD

Washington's service animal law covers most public places, including those that offer things like:

  • medical services
  • entertainment
  • lodging
  • burial services
  • the sale of goods
  • food and/or drink
  • transportation
  • sports and sporting events, and
  • recreation.

WLAD also covers public places such as:

  • public buildings and halls
  • elevators
  • public washrooms
  • schools
  • libraries
  • daycare centers, and
  • camps for children.

Religious Places Not Covered

The ADA doesn't regard religious entities as public accommodations, including:

  • churches
  • synagogues, and
  • mosques

The ADA excludes all religious entities—even those offering secular services, like a daycare center that admits children who aren't affiliated with the religious institution. Washington's law against discrimination also makes exceptions for religious or sectarian entities, such as:

  • schools
  • cemeteries
  • mausoleums
  • crematoriums, and
  • columbariums.

Private Clubs Not Covered

Private clubs also aren't covered by the ADA, if they meet a strict definition as member-controlled nonprofit groups that:

  • are highly selective
  • charge substantial membership fees, and
  • weren't created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws.

But if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it's subject to the ADA's public accommodation rules as to those particular facilities. Washington's law against discrimination also doesn't cover private clubs, except in places where public use is permitted.

Which Animals Are Covered Under Service Animal Laws in Washington?

Washington's law against discrimination defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse that's been trained to assist or accommodate people with physical, sensory, or mental disabilities. Both service animals and dog guides—dogs 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 (or sometimes a miniature horse) that's been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work your service animal does must be directly related to your disability.

Examples of service animals that must be allowed in public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms and doorbells
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate safely
  • psychiatric service animals, which help their owners 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 owners know of impending seizures, and might also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals, which alert their owners to the presence of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

How the Laws in Washington Handle Emotional Support Animals

Neither the ADA nor Washington's equal rights law covers emotional support animals. ESAs often have therapeutic benefits for their owners, providing a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions just by being there. But they don't qualify as service animals under the ADA or state law.

The key difference between service animals and ESAs in Washington comes down to training. Emotional support animals don't fit the ADA's definition of service animals because they aren't individually trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. And they don't fit Washington's law against discrimination, because they're not trained to assist or accommodate someone with a disability.

Rules for Your Service Animal in Washington State

Under the ADA, a public accommodation can question you about your disability or demand to see certification or other proof of your service animal's training or status. If it's not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment can ask you only the following:

  • whether it's a service animal, and
  • what tasks it performs for you.

The ADA and Washington law both 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'll likely 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 the health and safety of others. For example, if your dog barks aggressively and snaps at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out. Your animal can also be excluded if it isn't housebroken, or if it's out of control and you're unable or unwilling to effectively control it.

Service Animals in Washington Housing

Washington's law against discrimination prohibits landlords from discriminating against you if you have a disability and use a dog guide or service animal. Under state law, you must be allowed full enjoyment and access to the home with your service animal.

Similarly, the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against anyone who uses a service animal. You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities. And you can't be charged extra for having a service animal (although you can be required to pay for damage your animal causes).

The FHA and Washington law don't consider service animals to be pets. So, if your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your service animal. The same is true for pet deposits.

Emotional Support Animals in Washington Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act goes further than the ADA or Washington's discrimination law. Under the FHA, housing facilities must allow you to have an emotional support animal, if the animal is necessary for you to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home.

But for your ESA to fall under this provision, you must have a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the emotional support animal must alleviate the emotional effects of your disability (or work or perform tasks or services for you) in order to qualify.

Learn more about your rights as a disabled renter.

Updated May 22, 2023

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