Emotional Support Animal Laws in Washington State

downtown seattle skylineWashington state is a gem in the Pacific Northwest that gives you access to beaches, mountains, and lush forests. If you reside in gorgeous Washington state or you’re looking to make a move west, but you’re not sure how to navigate laws around emotional support animals, we can help.

From getting an ESA to understanding public access laws, we break down the entire process step-by-step for your ease.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is an animal that improves the emotional well-being of their handler simply by being there. ESAs can be any animal, though cats and dogs are the most popular choices, and they don’t require any specialized training. All an ESA needs to be legitimate is a letter written by a licensed mental health professional stating that your ESA improves your life.

Emotional support animals aren’t recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is what provides federal legal protection for service dogs specifically. This means that the laws around ESAs can be trickier to navigate in the U.S., as each state can offer a different perspective, though the Fair Housing Act does provide housing rights to ESAs throughout the entire nation.

Emotional Support Animal Laws in Washington

Washington state doesn’t legally recognize emotional support animals, which means that no state laws offer additional protections or public access. There are some federal laws to keep in mind when you start looking into the pursuit of an ESA, however.

Travel Laws

When it comes to plane travel, the Air Carrier Access Act (or ACAA) ruled in 2020 that ESAs are considered pets and can be treated as such. This means that you will likely need to pay a pet fee for your ESA, and you may need to have your ESA ride in cargo, especially if it’s too big to fit under the seat in front of you.

If plane travel is something that triggers severe feelings of anxiety or other symptoms of your diagnosis, it may be worth investigating whether or not a psychiatric service dog, or PSD, is right for you. PSDs are allowed to go with their handler anywhere for free, including on planes, and have more legal protections than ESAs. We get into the specific differences between ESAs and service dogs here.

Washington doesn’t have any additional laws regarding travel, so trains, buses, and other forms of public transportation may treat your ESA the same way that they would a pet. This may depend on the specific company, so check their rules and regulations before making any travel plans.

Housing Laws

The Fair Housing Act (or FHA) is a federal law stating that emotional support animals will always be allowed to live with their handler free of charge, even if landlords don’t allow pets. The FHA also covers college and university dormitories, so if you’re attending college and need an ESA, you’ll be able to be accompanied by your companion!

The FHA also supersedes breed restrictions, so if your landlord or realty management company has breed restrictions in place, your ESA will still get to live with you.

It should be noted that you will likely need to provide your landlord with a copy of your letter for your ESA to be accepted on premises.

Washington doesn’t have any specific housing laws, but the FHA should have your needs covered!

Employment Laws

Unfortunately, Washington state doesn’t have any legal protections when it comes to bringing your emotional support animal into the office. Since ESAs aren’t federally recognized, you’ll likely have to leave your ESA at home (or try to seek a pet-friendly workplace).

Some employers do offer ESA accommodations if you ask and provide proper documentation. Even though they don’t legally have to allow it, some workplaces will, so it may be worth looking into.

ESA Law Exceptions

The biggest exception to ESA laws is your animal’s behavior, particularly for large dogs. If your landlord finds that your ESA is destructive and causing damage to the property, they have the legal right to tell you that your ESA cannot continue living with you.

Along with this, ESAs can legally be asked to leave if they’re overly aggressive towards other people. For this reason and for the prevention of destruction, it’s highly recommended that your dog complete obedience training before being considered an ESA.

It should be noted that in addition to being non-destructive (including being housebroken), if you have a dog or cat, you’ll need to license it with the state and keep it up to date on vaccinations. If you don’t do this, you can be subjected to a fine. This goes for all dogs and cats in Washington state, not just ESAs, but it is something to be aware of if you’re moving.
dogs and fountain in seattle

Emotional Support Animal vs Service Dog

The biggest difference between an ESA and a service dog is the training. Emotional support animals don’t require any training to be considered ESAs, whereas service dogs need to be trained in a task that assists someone with their disability.

Service dogs have more legal protections than ESAs due to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that service dogs can accompany their handlers anywhere for free. ESAs don’t have these protections, so they’re often considered pets when it comes to travel and public spaces, so ESA handlers are subject to fees or being told to leave.

Service dogs can always fly on the cabin of a plane with their handler for free, no matter what the breed is. Service dogs are also allowed public access rights, unlike ESAs. If plane travel or being in public are things that trigger symptoms related to a mental illness, like anxiety, it may be worth looking into how to train your dog to be a psychiatric service dog.

Is an ESA Right for You?

If you are diagnosed with a mental illness and the companionship of an ESA would be beneficial to your well-being, it’s likely a great idea to pursue! This is especially true if you don’t mind ESA comfort being primarily at home, or having to be selective when it comes to bringing your ESA into public places.

Even though ESAs often aren’t as intensive as service dogs, they can still be just as important when it comes to helping their handler!

ESA Laws in Washington State: FAQs

How Can I Get an ESA Letter in Washington State?

If you work with a mental health professional who is licensed in Washington state, they’ll be able to write an ESA letter for you if you have a qualifying diagnosis. Once diagnosed, all you will have to do is ask for it (and likely provide reasons why an ESA would be beneficial.)

If you aren’t connected with a mental health professional licensed in Washington, U.S. Service Animals can help! Reach out to us via phone at (985) 242-7024 for a free consultation.

Do I Need to Register My Dog as an ESA?

No–legally, you do not have to register your ESA with any database for it to be considered an ESA; all you need is your letter. However, registering your ESA comes with benefits–for instance, if you register with U.S. Service Animals, you also have access to our legal team to help you navigate any sticky situations that may arise.

You will need to register your dog with the state, but this has nothing to do with ESA status. All dogs (and cats) living in Washington state must be registered and vaccinated.

What Happens If You Misrepresent Your Pet as an ESA in Washington State?

If you misrepresent your pet as an ESA, you may have to pay a hefty fine, and you may also be subject to investigation by the police.

Misrepresenting pets as ESAs also tends to do harm to the community, especially if the ESA is a dog that isn’t properly trained. Misrepresentation can make it harder for people who have legitimate ESAs to go through their day-to-day lives without invasive questions from strangers. This is why it’s encouraged to train your dog before obtaining an ESA letter.

As long as you have a legitimate diagnosis for it, getting an ESA letter can be fairly easy, and will ensure that you avoid misrepresentation fines!

Get the ESA You Deserve in Washington

Whether you’re moving to Washington state with your ESA, or you’ve lived there all your life, understanding the laws of the land will help you rest assured as you pursue having an ESA in Washington!

If you still have lingering questions about the laws, the process involved, or you want to see if you qualify for an ESA letter, reach out to U.S. Service Animals at (985) 242-7024 or by filling out our contact form!