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. For a related article, check out our guide to Emotional Support Animal Laws North Carolina.
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.
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.
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. Read more on our blog: Can Service Dogs Go Anywhere?
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.”
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
- Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks
Emotional Support Animals & Other Kinds of Animals
There are so many different types of working and helping dogs in the world. Some examples are emotional support animals, comfort animals, companion 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.
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.
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?
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 mean:
- 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.
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 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 dog 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. Check out of blog on Where to buy service dog vests and gear.
Service Dog Documentation, Registration, Certification
Service animals do not need to be registered or certified to be considered official service animals. 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 certification, evidence of training, service dog license, identification card, or registration of any kind to prove their animal is a legitimate service animal. Check out our blog Which Service Dog Registry is Legitimate? to learn more about registrations, certifications, and why they are not required.
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 a 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 dog’s 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.
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
- Anxiety disorders
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 behaviors
- Alerting the handler to rage or other types of strong emotions
- Interrupting self-harming behaviors
- 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.
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
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 Transportation Americans with Disabilities Act regulations define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or another 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
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.
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
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