Federal officials are investigating after a city banned a small horse a man says is his service animal needed on walks to improve his health.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development tells NBC affiliate KING-TV that it is investigating Benton City's actions as a possible fair housing violation.
Tim Fulton said that his horse, Fred, senses when Fulton is about to fall, gets in front and lets Fulton lean on him for support.
"I fall down from time to time," Fulton said. "It's really a pain."
Fulton said Fred is slightly taller than a large dog but much stronger and able to give Fulton the stability he needs.
But Benton City officials say Fred isn't allowed in a residential zone and has issued Fulton a $100 fine. So Fred is staying at a ranch outside city limits.
"Mr. Fulton has not met the requirements for the City to allow him to keep a miniature horse as a service animal in a residential zone...," said the city's attorney, Eric Ferguson of Kerr Law Group, in a statement.
Ferguson also questioned the validity of the documentation for a service animal, noting it was from a nurse practitioner basing the recommendation on what Ferguson said wasn't firsthand knowledge.
Ferguson also said Fred is a Shetland pony, not a miniature horse. Ferguson said allowing Fred to remain would "fundamentally alter the nature of the City's zoning scheme with no facts to show that it is 'necessary' under the law."
David Carlson, director of legal advocacy at Disability Rights Washington, said the city's decision is illegal.
"That is discrimination, and the city is violating the federal law designed to protect someone with a disability," Carlson said. "There are good reasons why someone might use a small horse as a service animal, and if someone does that, you can't say: 'Well you can't live in our town.' "
Washington animal law attorney Adam Karp said he believed the city's argument "would fail in court."