Service Dog Laws North Carolina – Huge Guide & FAQ [2023]

north carolina service dog laws

Welcome to Service Dog Laws North Carolina

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.

Service animals are a specially trained animal that do work or tasks to help people with different disabilities.

In this guide, we’ll go through some of the most common questions about service dogs in the state of North Carolina. This includes where they are allowed in public, housing information, what businesses need to know, plus much more.

service dog laws North Carolina
American Cocker Spaniel Service Dog “Bartek” @bartek_spaniel_wspanialyOpens in a new tab.
service animals are not pets
Service dogs might look like pets, but they are working animals, which is very different.

In brief, service animals may go with their (legally disabled) handler wherever the public can go. There are a few exceptions, like sterile hospital environments and religious organizations.

Service dogs of any breed may go to malls, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theatres, community centers, schools, buses, taxis, hotels, Airbnb, amusement parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals, trains, and National Parks, just as a few examples.

service dog laws north carolina

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 their 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.  

Check out our full federal ADA service dog laws summary & FAQs or read about fake service dogs.

Service Dog Laws North Carolina
Service Dog In Training “Bishop”

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. 

Examples include:

  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Theaters
  • Stadiums
  • Auditoriums
  • Bakeries
  • Clothing stores
  • Video stores
  • Hospitals
  • Professional offices
  • Gas stations
  • Funeral parlors
  • Stations used for public transportation
  • Museums
  • Gardens
  • Galleries
  • Parks
  • Zoos
  • Private schools
  • Homeless shelters
  • Day care centers
  • Gymnasiums
  • Golf courses

Public accommodations do not include “private clubs” or religious entities such as churches and mosques. Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?

Can Service dogs go anywhere in North Carolina?
Medical Alert Service Dog “Koda” @thatlilbearkodaOpens in a new tab.

Service Dog Laws North Carolina – What is a Service Animal?

Service animals must be:

  • A dog or;
  • A miniature horse

Other kinds of animals, like crocodiles, parrots, monkeys, cheetahs, or cats, don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA for public access rights.

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.”

North Carolina service dog laws definitions ADA
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

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.

What Service Dogs Can Do
Service animals can help humans with a wide variety of visible and invisible disabilities

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
  • Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks 
Psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” in a new tab.

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.

service dog vs emotional support dog
“Trained” refers to an animal being task-trained for a particular person’s disability, which goes well above and beyond the basic socialization and obedience dog training skills and abilities. Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog

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.

However, it’s important to note that emotional support animals may have some rights when it comes to housing and employment situations. In these cases, a reasonable accommodation request can be made.

What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy Dogs visit different environments with their owner to basically ease anxiety and spread joy.
Therapy Dog North Carolina
Therapy Dog “Eddie” with “Boomer” @eddieandboomerOpens in a new tab.

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.

Autism Service Dog North Carolina
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.

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.

service dog laws North Carolina PTSD service dog
Service dogs can be any size or kind of dog. PTSD Service Dog @vos_ptsd_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

What is a Disability?

The term “disability” can be defined differently by different entities and organizations, and also depending on the context. For example, let’s discuss for now the ADA definition of a disability.

It’s important to note that, according to the ADA, this is a legal definition, rather than a medical one. Read more about the ADA definition of a disability in our recent article What disabilities qualify for a service dog?

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
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Working
  • 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
border collie service dog North Carolina
Border Collie Service Dog @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

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.

There are several exceptions, such as sterile environments in the hospital (operating room, recovery room, ICU) and religious organizations. Read more on our blog about where service animals can go.

service dog at amusement park
Service Dog “Kodiak” @dog.human.duoOpens in a new tab.


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.

Medical Alert Service Dog North Carolina
Medical Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

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.

Blue Heeler Dog
Blue Heeler “Snow Leopard” @snow_leopard_81Opens in a new tab.

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. Check out of blog on Where to buy service dog vests and gear.

Syncope alert service dog
Syncope Alert Service Dog “Kylie’s Lucy On Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

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.Opens in a new tab. For more information, you can contact the N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services: (919) 733-0390.  

Service Dog Certification Registration

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,Opens in a new tab. people may be naturally wondering what the dog is actually needed for.

Psychiatric Service Dog Black Labrador Retriever
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” in a new tab.

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.

service animals are not pets
Service animals are working animals, not pets, even though they may look like pets.

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.

American Cocker spaniel service dog
American Cocker Spaniel Service Dog “Bartek” @bartek_spaniel_wspanialyOpens in a new tab.

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.

border collie service dog
Border Collie Service Dog @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

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.

service dog Poodle North Carolina
Tandem Medical Alert & Response Service Dogs @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

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.

Service dog laws North Carolina
Psychiatric Assistance K9 “Remmi” Photo @working.collie.remmiOpens in a new tab.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are a type of service dog that perform work or tasks related to psychiatric disabilities.

A few examples of these types of disabilities include:

  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression

Here are a few examples of some psychiatric service dog tasks:

  • Providing reminders to take medication at a certain time
  • Service dogs can lay across their handler and apply pressure (Deep Pressure Therapy) during a panic attack, for example
  • Provide tactile stimulation or grounding
  • Interrupting dissociative episodes or other repetitive or problematic behaviours
  • Alerting the handler to rage or other types of strong emotions
  • Interrupting self-harming behaviours
  • Retrieve an item, such as a water bottle and medication for a panic attack
  • Wake someone up from a nightmare
  • Interrupting flashbacks
  • Searching the house or home to ensure it’s clear and safe before the handler enters
  • Providing a “reality check” to help with hallucinations
  • Stabilizing a routine for someone
  • Read more on our blog: Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – 17 Examples

The difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs is simple: Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do at least one task for a specific person’s disability, and the task is related to the disability.

Emotional support animals are not task-trained like this, and provide comfort and other benefits by their presence alone. Emotional support animals are not service dogs, but they do have some rights when it comes to housing and employment situations.

psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” in a new tab.


The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment situations. In addition, it requires reasonable accommodation at the employee’s request.

Allowing someone with a disability to bring their service animal into the workplace environment is a form of reasonable accommodation.

As with any accommodation request, the employer must consider allowing the use of a service animal at work unless doing so poses an undue hardship, or could disrupt the workplace environment.

Note that an employee may also request that an employer allow a companion animal or emotional support animal in the workplace as an accommodation. Reasonable requests in this situation are not restricted to dogs only. Read more on our blog: Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide

Husky Service Dog
“Kylie’s Lucy On Duty” (Lucy) Service Dog @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.


As we’ve already talked about, service animals perform various work or tasks to help someone with a disability to live safely and independently. U.S. Department of TransportationOpens in a new tab. Americans with Disabilities Act regulations define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to:

  • Guiding individuals with impaired vision
  • Alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds
  • Providing minimal protection or rescue work
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Fetching dropped items
psychiatric service dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” in a new tab.

When riding transit, customers with disabilities who use service animals are responsible for maintaining control over their animals (and caring for them) at all times.

Riders are also responsible for knowing the best way to board and position their service animal on the vehicle, especially if the service animal may be required to provide assistance (“tasking”) during the transit trip.

Service animals may not block aisles or exits.

Service dog laws in
Blue Heeler “Snow Leopard” @snow_leopard_81Opens in a new tab.

According to ADA regulations, every transportation employee or operator who serves people with disabilities needs to be trained so that they know how to provide non-discriminatory service in an appropriate and respectful way.

When serving passengers who are blind, operators should:

  • Identify themselves
  • Speak directly to the customer instead of through a companion
  • Use specifics such as “there are five boarding steps and a 10-inch drop to the curb” when giving directions

Transit agencies should be aware of the following rules under ADA:

  • Operators must allow all service animals on board
  • Operators may not ask for proof of service animal, certification or of the customer’s disability
  • Operators may not require a person traveling with a service animal to sit in a particular seat on the vehicle or charge a cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals onto the vehicle, unless the animal causes damage
Autism service dog in
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.

How Do I Make My Dog a Service Dog in North Carolina?

Stop making that sound so easy! To make your dog a service dog in North Carolina, you must have a disability, and a disability-related need for the animal. Start your service dog training journey, and work on having your dog learn how to act properly in public, with basic socialization and obedience training, and performing specific tasks that mitigate the effect(s) of your disability. There are different avenues for getting a service animal.

Even though service animals do not need to be professionally trained by an organization or school, they do need to be trained for your disability. This is not usually an easy task, and many people need at least some help.

It’s also important to note that not just any dog can become a service dog. Dogs are like people and have individual personalities. Some personalities do great with working; others just don’t. Some dogs truly just can’t focus, don’t listen, or want to only play (or relax) all day. Read more on our blog: Service Dog Training Basics & FAQ

Autism service dog
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.

Does North Carolina Recognize Emotional Support Animals?

No, North Carolina does not recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) for public access rights as it does service animals. Emotional support animals can be denied access to public places. However, it’s good to note that ESAs may have rights when it comes to a reasonable request in a housing or employment situation, under the federal FHA (Fair Housing Act) and/or ADA laws.

Shepsky Service Dog
Willow The Shepsky Service Dog @the_working_willowOpens in a new tab.

The ADA Is Similar

The following is a quote from the Americans with Disabilities Act:

“While Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

“Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals.  Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.” – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National NetworkOpens in a new tab.

service dog vs emotional support dog
“Trained” here means task-trained for a particular person’s disability. This goes far above and beyond the basic puppy socialization and basic obedience training.

North Carolina Emotional Support Animal Laws

In North Carolina, emotional support animals are governed by various laws. Here are some facts about NC emotional support animal laws in different contexts.

  • Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not automatically exempt from a housing provider’s no-pet policies 
  • Someone with a disability can request a “reasonable accommodation” for an ESA in a housing situation, and housing providers need to be accommodating unless they can show that allowing an ESA would be an undue burden on its operations
  • ESA’s do not need to be specially trained in order to qualify for a reasonable accommodation for a housing situation
  • Animals other than dogs may also function as emotional support, therapy or assistance animals in housing situations under the Fair Housing Act (I think that is why ESAs are called “ assistance animals,” not “service dogs” under this Act)
  • Payment may be required for any specific damage done to the premises by an ESA
  • It is illegal to charge someone with a disability an extra fee to keep a guide or service dog or an emotional support, therapy or assistance animal (ESA)
  • ESA’s may not travel in the cabin of a plane with their human under the ACAA; although, individual airlines may vary. ESAs may still travel through the air as a pet
  • Emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA for public access rights, so they can be denied access to public places, although individual businesses may vary
  • ESAs can still visit “pet-friendly” public accommodations with their handler
  • ESAs can be requested as a reasonable accommodation in an employment situation under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Emotional support animals do not need to be registered for any reason. No legitimate ESA registration system exists. Websites selling ESA papers online are not recognized by the Department of Justice nor the ADA, and purchasing one of those piece of papers from the internet does not give someone any special rights. What is needed for housing and/or employment is a letter from a doctor or other medical professional merely stating the animal is required
multipurpose service dog
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

Read more: Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog 


Read more on our blog:


Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

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