Service Animals Vs Pets

servicedogThe Mason County Health Department receives many calls and complaints about people who have dogs in a shopping cart at a grocery store or at a table in a restaurant. The following information may help people understand the difference between a working service animal and a pet.

Who sets the law regarding service animals and the Washington State Law against discrimination?

  • Washington State Human Rights Commission
  • RCW 49.60.215, RCW 49.60.040(22) and RCW 49.60.040(23)
  • WAC 162-26-130 and WAC 162.22.100

Service animal laws in Washington are complex due to the intersection of state and federal law; there are different rules for places of public accommodation generally for food establishments in particular, and for housing.

What does the law provide for?

  • Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities who use a service animal to assist them with their disability.
    • Lead blind people
    • Serve as ears of a deaf person
    • Carry and pick up items
    • Be used for balance
    • Provide warnings of impending seizures of low blood sugar
    • Alert handlers to avoid anxiety triggers or by stimulating the person to “snap back” to a conscious state
    • Can remind handlers that it is time to take medication
    • Can summon help in the case of fainting or a seizure

The ways in which persons with disabilities use service animals are growing and evolving as we discover additional ways in which animals can be utilized by persons with disabilities.

Do service animals have to be trained?

  • The Washington Law against Discrimination defines a service animal as being “trained”. Training itself is not defined and there is no requirement that the animal have a certain type of training, that the animal be certified, or that it be trained by a particular person or by a person having certification. Court cases have determined that the training needs to be more than obedience training and positive reinforcement that area given to family pets. A service animal must have training that sets it apart from a family pet; the service animal must be trained to engage in specific actions or tasks to assist its handler with a disability.

Are Service Animals allowed in all places of public accommodation?

  • Service animals must be allowed into all areas of a place of public accommodation where the general public is allowed, including dining and eating areas, restrooms, and areas where food is sold. A place of public accommodation cannot request that the service animal be removed unless it creates a risk of harm. This risk must be actual, and cannot be speculative or based on a fear of dogs.
    • Service animals are not pets, so a “no pets” policy does not apply.
    • A business cannot charge a fee for the service animal.
    • Service animals are not limited to large dogs; small dogs and miniature horses are also service animals.
    • Service animals will often be identified with a harness or vest, but there is no requirement that the service animal have any identification.
    • If the customer does not identify the animal, a business can ask if the animal is a pet. If the customer than identifies the animal as a service animal, the business can only ask what type of service the animal provides The business cannot ask the customer about his or her disability, as this is private information, and the business cannot ask for proof of disability or a medical note.
    • If an animal is identified as a service animal, the business must allow the animal into all public parts of the business, including where food is sold and eaten. The business cannot segregate the service animal and its handler to a particular part of the place of public accommodation.
    • It is reasonable to expect that the service animal should remain in physical or voice control of its handler at all times, that the animal not defecate of urinate inside, and that the animal not bark excessively or act aggressively toward people. Keep in mind however, that sometimes it is a service animal’s job to warn its handler of surroundings or impending events, and might do so with a bark or a growl.
    • Do not pet or speak to the service animal unless invited to do so by its handler. The animal is working and should not be disturbed.

Food establishment requirements:

  • Recent legislation imposed restrictions on the type of service animals allowed in food establishments. They are limited to:
    • Miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.
    • Dogs that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.
  • The law specifically omits from the definition of service animal as related to food establishments:
    • Any other type of animal, wild or domestic, trained or untrained.
    • Dogs that provide crime deterrent effects.
    • Dogs that provide emotional support, well being, comfort or companionship.
  • Food establishments include:
    • Supermarkets and grocery stores, convenience stores and food marts (except those with fueling services), meat markets and delicatessens, fish and seafood markets, fruit and vegetable markets and stands, baked goods stores, confectionery and nut stores, specialty food stores, warehouse clubs and supercenters, restaurants (including full services, taker-our, fast food , cafeterias, grills, and buffets), snack or beverage bars, bars, taverns, and night clubs.


  • The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency in charge of enforcing housing laws throughout the county, including anti-discrimination laws. Under federal law a housing provider cannot discriminate against persons with disabilities, and must reasonably accommodate persons with disabilities. HUD does not have a training requirement for service animals.
  • The person must have a disability, must request the animal as a reasonable accommodation for that disability, and must be able to show that the animal is necessary because of the person’s disability. Emotional support animals and comfort animals would be included as a reasonable accommodation under HUD rules. HUD does not limit the species of service animals. Anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against in housing because of their service animal will need to file their complaint directly with HUD.


  • Under state law it is an unfair practice of an employer to request that a trained doe guide or service animal be removed from the workplace. If the animal is trained to provide a disability related service to a person with a disability, and employer needs to allow the service animal in the workplace. Fear of dogs by other employees or by customers is not a valid reason for not allowing a service anima. If allergies are an issue, an employer must balance the need for the service animal with reasonably accommodating the person with allergies, often by separation if possible.
  • Service animals should be under the control of their owners. Service animals should not create sanitary problems or make loud noises. There is no requirement that the employer provide food, water or toileting facilities for service animals
  • There are certain circumstances in very specific types of medical and food service operations where certain animals can be excluded.

For more information contact:
Washington State Human Rights Commission
711 S Capitol Way, Suite 402
PO Box 42490
Olympia, WA 98504-2490
Tel: 360-753-6670, FAX: 360-586-2282
Toll Free: 1-800-233-3247
TTY: 1-800-300-7525

Debbie Riley, Mason County Public Health & Human Services - July 15, 2014

IMAGE/ – service dog