Both State and Federal laws protect people who use service animals. Still, a lot of confusion is a problem, and people who use service dogs can face challenges with access to public areas. Keep reading to get all the details about service dog laws North Carolina.
Jump to a section:
- The ADA – Americans With Disabilities Act
- What is a Public Accommodation?
- What is a Service Animal
- What Are Work & Tasks?
- Emotional Support Animals & Other Types of Animals
- Dogs For Anxiety
- Who Can Use a Service Animal?
- What is a Disability?
- Where Are Service Animals Allowed?
- Responsibility For Service Animals
- Service Animal Leashes & Collars & Vests & ID Tags
- Service Dog Documentation, Registration, Certification
- Questions Businesses Can Ask
- When Can Service Animals Be Excluded?
- Allergies & Fear of Dogs
- Fees and Charges For Service Animals
The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act, governs the use of service animals. It is a federal civil rights law for people who are living with disabilities.
State and local government entities are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities in its programs or services. This includes things like classes and meetings through a parks and recreation department, town hall meetings, and tax departments.
Public places of accommodation are prohibited from denying its goods or services to people on the basis of a disability, or a service dog. They must not offer unequal or separate benefits, nor offer services in a segregated setting because someone has a disability.
Specialized programs for people who are living with disabilities can still be offered. This is okay as long as people with disabilities are not excluded from the programs and/or services that are offered to all other people.
What is a Public Accommodation for Service Dog Laws North Carolina?
Public accommodations are basically any place that the general public is invited to go, such as buildings, and could include an outdoor space, that someone can enter with or without a fee.
- Clothing stores
- Video stores
- Professional offices
- Gas stations
- Funeral parlors
- Stations used for public transportation
- Private schools
- Homeless shelters
- Day care centers
- Golf courses
Public accommodations do not include “private clubs” or religious entities such as churches and mosques.
Service Dog Laws North Carolina – What is a Service Animal?
Service animals must be:
- A dog
- A miniature horse
Other kinds of animals, like crocodiles, parrots, monkeys, cheetahs, or cats, don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA.
The federal ADA definition of a service animal is:
“Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The type of work or task a service animal performs must be directly related to the handler’s disability to be a service animal.”
Service Dog Laws North Carolina – What Are Work or Tasks?
The work or tasks that a service animal performs for a person must be directly related to that person’s disability.
In addition, the work or tasks the service animal performs must be a specific action that is taken by the animal when the person needs it to help make their life easier in some way due to having to live with a disability.
Some examples of work or tasks that a service animal can do are:
- Helping someone who is blind or has low vision with navigation and other related tasks
- Alerting someone who is hard of hearing deaf or deaf to the presence of people or certain sounds
- Providing non-violent protection or rescue work
- Pulling a wheelchair for a person
- Assisting and keeping someone safe during a seizure
- Alerting someone to the presence of allergens
- Retrieving items such as medicine, keys, or a phone
- Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to people who are living with mobility disabilities
- Helping people with psychiatric, mental, or neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
Emotional Support Animals & Other Kinds of Animals
There are so many different types of working and helpful dogs in the world. Some examples are emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, therapy dogs, and dogs that deter crime with their mere presence.
These types of dogs, while equally helpful to people, do not qualify as service animals under the ADA definition. This is because they are not specifically trained to help with one person’s particular disability. So, these animals don’t have the same kinds of public access rights as do officially qualified service animals.
Service Dog Laws North Carolina – Dogs for Anxiety
Wondering if a dog for anxiety can be a qualified service dog, or not? It’s a great question. Think back to the official definition of a service animal, which is the dog needs to be specifically trained to do a certain task or work for someone’s particular disability.
If a trained service dog senses that a person with a disability is about to have some kind of psychiatric experience, like a panic attack, and subsequently responds with a specific action… like barking, nudging, or even removing the person from that area and into a new environment, and this helps avoid or lessen the impact of the panic attack, then this would qualify as a service dog.
The dog took a specific action for a specific person to help lessen some of the effects of a disabilities characteristics.
If, however, a dog has not been trained to do that, but instead offers comfort to a person by its mere presence, then this dog would not be considered a qualified service animal under the ADA definition. This type of dog is known as perhaps an emotional support dog, comfort, or companion dog.
Who Can Use a Service Animal in North Carolina?
Anyone with a disability can use a service animal in North Carolina, as long as the work or tasks that are performed by the service animal are directly related to the individual’s disability.
What is a Disability?
A disability is:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.
Major life activities means:
- Functions like caring for oneself
- Performing manual tasks
- Being able to see
- Major bodily functions
- Immune system
- Normal cell growth
- Digestive functions
- Bowel functions
- Bladder functions
- Neurological functions
- Brain functions
- Respiratory functions
- Circulatory functions
- Endocrine functions
- Reproductive functions
Where Are Service Animals Allowed?
People who are living with disabilities are permitted to take their service animals in any and all areas of government entities and businesses where members of the general public are normally invited or allowed to go.
Service animals are permitted in ambulances as long as there is room, and as long as the animal won’t be getting in the way or interfering with the emergency staff’s job.
In hospitals, service animals are allowed in places like patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias and lunch rooms, and even in the ER and examination rooms.
A service animal may be excluded in a hospital anywhere the animal may be compromising a sterile environment, such as in an operating room or burn unit.
There are a few examples of service doing cases having gone to court for being excluded in a hospital setting. In one example, a patient wanted to bring their service dog into the emergency room with her. A hospital in Tennessee said that no animals, even service animals, were to be allowed to go anywhere past the waiting room.
A court judge ruled that this was wrong. Hospitals and healthcare staff can only keep a service animal out of a service area such as an emergency room, when they can actually prove that that particular animal will pose a risk that can’t be eliminated.
In another example, a patient had a service dog in her hospital room with her. The hospital staff asked to remove the dog because of a strong smell coming from the dog. In addition, the dog growled and snapped at the staff.
The hospital made a reasonable attempt to improve the smell in the room, but nothing worked. The court ruled that even though it was a service dog, this dog was indeed threatening the health and safety of other people at the hospital, and it was allowed to be removed.
Responsibility for Service Animals
Covered entities, government agencies, and businesses are not responsible for taking care of a service animal.
The service animal’s handler is responsible for all of those types of things, including caring for and supervising the service animal. This includes toileting, feeding, grooming and veterinary care.
Service Animal Leashes & Collars & Vests & ID Tags
Usually, service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered in some way while they’re in public places with their human.
If this type of tethering would interfere with the animal’s work, or if a person’s disability prevents the use of a tether, then they may not be used. In that case, the service dog handler must maintain voice control over the animal at all times. Service animals should never be out of control.
Service dog vests, ID tags, or a specific harness are not required by the ADA.
Although it is not required, many people seem to experience fewer problems if their service animal is wearing a vest or collar. A lot of people in the general public are not educated about service dogs, and this can often be somewhat helpful for everyone.
Service Dog Documentation, Registration, Certification
Service animals do not need to be registered or certified to be considered an official service animal. In fact, no federal registration or certification program exists. If you see these types of websites online, they’re simply not legitimate, and are not recognized by the Department of Justice or the ADA.
Businesses and entities may not ask someone with a service dog for documentation such as a certification, evidence of training, service dog license, identification card, or registration of any kind to prove their animal is a legitimate service animal.
If you like – and this is voluntary – you can register your service animal with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, by filling out the registration form here. For more information, you can contact the N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services: (919) 733-0390.
Questions Businesses Can Ask
Since there are so many things we are not allowed to ask of someone with a service dog, such as personal questions about a disability, what are we allowed to ask?
There are really only two questions that you may ask someone who appears to have a service dog, but when their disability, or the reason why they need the dog, is not obvious.
You may ask:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
As an example, if you are someone who uses a service animal and you get asked the question of whether the dog is required because of a disability, a simple “yes” answer would suffice.
If you then get asked what your animal has been trained to perform, you can simply say that the animal is trained to detect changes in your blood sugar. And when the level gets too high or too low, the dog will alert you. You can say whatever your dog does as the case may be.
If someone asks if you have a disability, this is okay, and a simple “yes” answer is good enough.
Asking for additional information about what a disability is, or for more details, is inappropriate and you do not need to answer. It is just good to be aware that many people may be unfamiliar with service dog laws, and since many disabilities are invisible, people may be naturally wondering what the dog is actually needed for.
When Service Animals Can Be Excluded
The first thing to realize here is that service dogs are working animals, not pets. Think of it as a walking, breathing, medical assistance device.
So, someone who is living with a disability and who uses a service animal, has the same rights to the same services and treatments as someone else who doesn’t have a disability and/or service dog.
“No pets” policies or “no animals” policies do not apply to service dogs.
However, there are a few situations in which a business, government entity, or public accommodation can exclude a service animal:
- If attempting to make modifications in order to accommodate a person with a service dog, would fundamentally alter the nature of the entity’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations, then the dog may be excluded
- If there are legitimate safety requirements that need to be made in order for the safe operation of its services, programs, or activities, that can not immediately accommodate a service dog, then it may be excluded
- If a service dog is out-of-control of the handler, and the handler does not take steps to control it. An example would be if a service animal was continually barking and snapping at people and the handler let this behavior continue
- If the dog acts in an inappropriate way, such as going to the bathroom indoors
Allegations of a safety risk need to be based on actual risks rather than on speculations, stereotypes, or generalizations about people who are living with disabilities and service dogs.
Allergies & Fear of Dogs
Allergies to dogs or dog fur/dander, and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying a service dog access to a public place, or for refusing service to people using service dogs.
Sometimes, there will be cases when someone with allergies and/or fear of dogs must spend time in the same general space as someone with a service dog. This would happen in a classroom, or at a homeless shelter, for example.
In that case, both individuals need to be accommodated. This can be made possible by assigning each person to slightly different locations within the room. Or, if that isn’t possible, perhaps assigning each person to a different location within the same facility would work.
As an example, a person in Texas attempted to take their service dog on a tour of a beer brewery. The brewery said no to the service animal because they were worried about what would happen if the animal got too close to their beer brewing process. They were worried that the dog hair might get into the beer.
However, the courts didn’t agree with the brewery, saying that the likelihood of the dogs hair getting into the beer was just the same as a human’s hair.
Fees and Charges For Service Animals
There are laws around charging a fee for a service dog.
A person who lives with a disability and who uses a service animal:
- Must not be isolated from other patrons
- Must not be treated differently, in a less-favorable way compared to other patrons
- Must not be charged fees that aren’t charged to other people who don’t have a service animal
In the case where a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, this fee must be waived for service animals. Service animals are not pets.
In the case where a business generally charges someone for damages they cause, a business may charge someone with a disability for the damages caused by that person or their service dog.