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Seattle expands definition of service animal

Miniature horses can be trained to assist people who are blind. The Guide Horse Program says the animals perform many of the tasks seeing-eye dogs do.

When you think of a service animal, you probably think of a dog sitting next to someone who’s blind.  But under new civil rights legislation in Seattle,  the city defines " service animal” as:

"any animal a doctor deems medically necessary."

Julie Nelson, director of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, says the change recognizes that all sorts of animals are now helping people with disabilities.

"There are birds, for example, that can tell when seizures are about to come on."

Nelson says, under the new law,  if a doctor determines a disabled person needs a bird or a miniature horse or any other animal, the person cannot be discriminated against for using them, even if a landlord has a  “no pet” policy.

Originally, the city planned to include “therapeutic animals” in the definition, but backed off after landlords complained the definition was too broad.

 Seattle’s overhaul of its civil rights law brings it in compliance with state and federal civil rights laws already on the books.  In addition to revamping the definition of service animal, the new provisions in Seattle's law:

  1. Forbid companies from discriminating against people  based on genetic testing.  In 2008,  genetic information was added to federal law.
  2. Define pregnancy discrimination as part of sex discrimination.
  3. Extend the statute of limitations for housing discrimination cases, from six months to one year.
Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.