Getting an Emotional Support Animal in North Carolina

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 16, 2021

north carolina skylineIf you are suffering from a mental illness or condition, you may be thinking of getting an emotional support animal in North Carolina. The impact that the constant companionship of an emotional support animal (ESA) has on people with mood disorders or mental illnesses is massive.

Getting an ESA is a relatively straightforward process. Before you get an ESA though, familiarize yourself with the federal and state laws, and the rules and regulations around having this type of assistance animal.

Emotional Support Animal in North Carolina: Specific Protection

For anyone considering getting an emotional support animal in North Carolina, there are federal laws that will protect your rights as an ESA owner. This includes your overall rights under the US Federal Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to have an assistance animal to help you with any kind of physical, mental or emotional disability.

Other laws protect your rights to have your emotional support animal (ESA) with you in certain places and situations. These are mostly in rented housing and during air travel.

However, you need to note there are differences in the types of assistance animals out there. This affects where and when your ESA is allowed to be with you in public settings. ESAs do not have the same protection as service animals, who are allowed in most public places. Under state legislation, ESAs, cannot be with you in certain public places.

A North Carolina Senator has, in April 2018, put a bill before the Senate proposing a change to the legislation currently allowing for the inclusion of emotional support animals on flights. The bill also proposes making changes to the penalties for misrepresenting animals as service animals.

However, under the US law, an emotional support animal in North Carolina is protected by the ACAA (Airlines Carrier Access Act) and FHA (Fair Housing Act).

Definition of Assistance Animal

Assistance animal in a park in North Carolina training to become an assistance dog

The term “assistance animal” generally covers service animals, psychiatric service animals, and emotional support animals. Here are the different types of assistance given by each:

  • Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): This type of assistance animal provides comfort through companionship for a person with an emotional or mental disability. The animal does not undergo any specific training. An ESA may sometimes be an existing pet if the owner has been assessed as having a condition that would benefit from its presence. An ESA can be helpful to the overall health and well-being of a person with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and other mental illnesses or mood disorders.
  • Service Animals: Service animals give assistance to people with a large range of disabilities. They perform specific tasks for people or individuals with disabilities and keep them safe. Examples of service dogs are those trained to help move wheelchairs or mobility aids. Others, such as seeing-eye dogs are trained to guide the blind.
  • Psychiatric Service Animals: These dogs receive training to recognize symptoms of an oncoming anxiety attack or seizure and to assist their owner in other ways. They warn them, bring them their medication or distract them while they have an anxiety attack. Unlike an ESA, which provides comfort in an untrained manner, psychiatric service dogs help people with more serious, debilitating or even life-threatening mental illnesses or conditions.

Therapy Animals:  Technically, therapy animals are not assistance animals. They provide comfort and therapeutic value to many people as opposed to just one person. Therapy dogs or cats may be animals in shared settings like day care facilities, nursing homes, and hospices.

How to get an Emotional Support Animal in North Carolina: CertaPet’s Simple 5 Min Process

If you are ready to go, we are here to help you get an emotional support animal in North Carolina! If you just want to start by checking whether you may be eligible, we can help with that too!

We have a confidential and free pre-screening process at Certapet to establish if you may qualify for an ESA. This only takes a couple of minutes for you to complete. If your answers show that you may qualify for an ESA, we will connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your state.

ESA letters are usually issued within 48 business hours.

Travel Laws (Air Carrier Access Act)

If you wish to fly with an ESA check with individual airlines on their procedures and policies. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects people’s right to travel with an ESA on flights. Usually, airlines will need you to:

  • Provide a copy of your ESA letter signed by a health professional licensed to do so. Your ESA letter will need to be less than a year old and confirm you personally qualify for an ESA.
  • Give the airline at least 48 hours advance notice that you intend to travel with your ESA.
  • Other information airlines may request include how you will carry or transport your ESA, and if you have provisions for any toileting requirements for them. They may also ask for evidence such as a veterinary certificate that your ESA is healthy and safe to have on the plane.

So many people abuse the ESA policy and try to get their pets onto flights for free. Airlines have little choice but to tighten ESA rules and regulations. Make sure you research the ESA policy of the carrier you intend to fly with before booking your ticket!

Employment Laws

Employers in North Carolina are not under any legal obligation to allow emotional support animals in their workplace.

However, if you do want to have your ESA with you at work, there is no harm in explaining your situation to your employer and asking them to allow you to bring Fido to the office! You never know, they might say yes!

Housing Laws (Fair Housing Act)

North Carolina landlords and property owners must comply with the laws under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

This Act allows people with a disability to have an ESA live with them in rented accommodation. Landlords must provide equal opportunity for “reasonable accommodation” to those with a disability who require the presence of an assistance animal, even if there is a “no pets” policy in place.

The concept of emotional support animals for people with a disability is a relatively new one. So many landlords and property owners are still becoming familiar with the terms and processes. These include:

  • Not denying a person rental accommodation solely because they may have an ESA.
  • Not charging any advance fees or deposits if a tenant has an ESA. (They may charge for damage or cleaning if an ESA subsequently soils or destroys any property).
  • Verification that a tenant has a disability that qualifies for an ESA. This will usually be a letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) or a medical doctor.
  • In North Carolina, you must make a request in writing for reasonable accommodation. Disability Rights NC provide a sample letter to apply for reasonable accommodation, that needs to be submitted to a prospective landlord, together with your ESA letter from a LMHP.

ESA Campus Housing

When you are applying to universities or colleges, there is always a lot to consider. Having your emotional support animal in North Carolina on campus with you in university housing may be on the list of considerations.

In North Carolina, the legislation under the Fair Housing Act applies to residential dorms and facilities on campus.

Student doing homework in bed with ESA dog

Many of the colleges and universities in North Carolina welcome people with their ESAs in their residential accommodation. However, always check the specific policies of the institution you plan on attending.

They may have limitations on the public and private areas where you can have your ESA with you. There are also cases where they limit pets due to health and safety regulations. You will need to submit supporting ESA documentation with your application for on-campus housing.

Exception to Rules

Getting an emotional support animal in North Carolina does not mean your protection is a given! There exceptions to the rules. These include:

  • Landlords and property managers can deny a request for you to have an ESA if the ESA displays aggressive, disruptive or destructive behavior.
  • Your ESA can and will be denied access to the cabin on a flight if it causes disruptions, acts aggressively or destroys any property.
  • Your rights to keep an ESA will be revoked if there is any sign of neglect or abuse of the animal.

Punishment for Misrepresenting an Assistance Animal

Under the law, it is a misdemeanor to misrepresent an assistance animal. Always be mindful of using the correct term for your ESA. This includes:

  • Requesting your pet is with you in rental accommodation, or air travel, if you have not personally been assessed and diagnosed with a condition that is mitigated by the presence of an ESA.
  • Presenting your ESA as a service animal such as presenting your emotional assistance dog is a guide dog to get them into public places where ESAs are not allowed.

5 Facts You Need to Know Before Receiving Your ESA

There are a few things you should know before getting your ESA letter!

  1. A LMHP has to issue the ESA letter.
  2. The most common (and accepted) ESAs are dogs and cats.
  3. Unlike service dogs, ESAs do not undergo specific training.
  4. Despite protection from the FHA and ACAA, your ESA is not allowed in public places without permission.
  5. ESAs are a big responsibility. If you commit to getting one you need to be sure that you can take good care of them!

Where to Find a Suitable ESA!

Looking for your emotional support cat or dog can be a fun and rewarding process. You may already have a pet dog or cat at home that you have a connection with! If not, you’ll need to go out and look for your new best friend!

Potential emotional support animals in North Carolina animal shelter

To help with finding an emotional support animal in North Carolina there are many places you can start. Non-profit organizations such as humane societies and animal shelters look to re-home all kinds of dogs and cats.

If you have a particular breed or pedigree in mind, try starting with sites such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) marketplace and the American Cat Fanciers Association. Both have listings, by State, of breeders in local areas.

Animal shelters are full of dogs and cats looking for forever homes! And remember, shelters don’t only have mixed breed dogs, they are also looking to rehome pedigrees!

Where to Take your Emotional Support Animal

Once you have your ESA letter and are settled into your accommodation, you and Fido need to get out and about and have some fun in the sun!

There are many places for you to take your emotional support animal in North Carolina! Here are some of the top choices:

Dog Parks and Dog Runs

  • Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, NC
  • North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, NC

Dog-Friendly Restaurants and Bars

  • Angry Ales, Charlotte, NC
  • The George on the Riverwalk, Wilmington, NC

Resorts, Fitness, and Spas

  • Aloft Asheville Downtown, Asheville, NC
  • TownePlace Suites Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, NC


  • Terrace Thursdays and Music Mondays at Summerfield Farms, Summerfield, NC
  • Bark in the Park at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC.

ESAs in North Carolina: How to Get Connected with an LMHP in Your State Today!

If you think you may qualify for an emotional support animal, start the process by taking our 5-minute free online pre-screening! If your answers indicate that you may qualify for an ESA, we will connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your state!

You could have your ESA letter in as little as 48 hrs!

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