In our last blog post, we explained the differences between service animals, emotional support/comfort animals, and therapy dogs under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). Here, we briefly explain a few additional considerations with respect to state and local laws.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination defines “service animal” as “an animal that is trained for the purpose of assisting or accommodating a sensory, mental, or physical disability of a person with a disability.” Thus, the WLAD differs from the ADA insofar as it does not define service animals to include only dogs. The WLAD does require, as does the ADA, that the animal be trained for the specific purpose of assisting or accommodating a disability.
We also note here that while the ADA does not include miniature horses in its definition of “service animal,” a subsequent federal regulation allows miniature horses to be service animals only under the circumstances articulated in 28 C.F.R. 35.136(i). Among other things, the horse must be housebroken and kept under control by its handler. The business or other entity covered by the ADA can also assess whether the miniature horse can be accommodated in its facilities, which it cannot do with service dogs.
The City of Seattle has an ordinance that defines “service animal” much more broadly than the ADA, FHA, or WLAD. The City’s definition of “service animal” is “an animal that provides medically necessary support for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” There are no restrictions as to the species of animal, nor is there a requirement that the animal be specifically trained. Seattle’s broad definition of “service animal” applies to places of public accommodation, housing, and employment. Seattle provides much more protection to disabled persons than do either the ADA or FHA; this also increases the potential liability for employers, businesses, and housing providers in Seattle.
Falsely asserting that an animal is a service animal in order to get the animal into restaurants, grocery stores, and the like is a crime under the ADA. “Fake” service dogs are an increasing problem for persons with legitimate disabilities who need service dogs. The prevalence of people who bring their pets with them into public places claiming the pet is a service dog has contributed to public distrust and ridicule of service animals, as well as increasingly intrusive questions about details of someone’s disability.
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com