Shop Talk

Know rules before allowing pets around your business

Paisley, an Australian Shepherd mix, rests Friday in front of her owner, Megan Simpson, associate media director at Media Two Interactive in downtown Raleigh. Many stores, bars and restaurants allow animals, but each must follow different rules.
Paisley, an Australian Shepherd mix, rests Friday in front of her owner, Megan Simpson, associate media director at Media Two Interactive in downtown Raleigh. Many stores, bars and restaurants allow animals, but each must follow different rules.

Who doesn’t love their dog?

The loyal pets are known to help humans lower blood pressure and fight stress, and many small-business owners bring them to work and allow their customers to shop with them.

Friday is the 17th annual “Bring Your Dog to Work Day,” an event created by Pet Sitters International to encourage non-pet owners to adopt an animal by seeing pets and their owners together.

As great as dogs in the office might be, different types of companies are subject to various state rules and restrictions.

So if you plan to celebrate or bring your dog to work as always, here’s what you need to know about allowing animals in your place of business.


The Department of Health and Human Services says restaurant owners can allow dogs on patios and other outdoor seating. If the dog is a service animal, the business owner must allow it inside.

Even if dogs are allowed outside a restaurant, they cannot come into contact with the employees, food, serving dishes or utensils. So, your customers can’t put their plates on the ground and let Fido finish their dinners. If your employee pets a dog, they are breaking the state rule.

Andre Pierce, environmental health and safety director for Wake County, said employees touching a dog or cat and not washing their hands before going back to work is the primary public health concern. Still, he doesn’t think it’s likely animals present a serious threat of illness. The state rule is classified as a core violation, which is the lowest priority.

“In food safety,” Pierce said, “there are more things to focus on that are directly related to foodborne illness.”

Pierce said animals are allowed outside because it is difficult to prohibit people from bringing their pets to a restaurant’s sidewalk seating. In downtown Raleigh especially, Pierce says it’s becoming more common for people to bring their pets to dinner.

The state rule is set up based on FDA regulations. Counties are prohibited from making changes to this rule, mostly because it is too hard for chain restaurants to be compliant if regulations are different in every county.

“The industry likes to have a common set of codes,” he said.


For breweries, the rules for allowing animals are a little trickier. If a bar chooses to allow pets, it can only sell food if it’s wrapped and sealed in disposable packaging.

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham has been welcoming dogs inside since opening in 2010. Owner Sean Lilly Wilsonsaid dogs are a part of the brewery’s identity.

“It sets the tone that its a unique, indoor-outdoor environment,” he said.

Fullsteam has considered adding food to its menu, but Lilly Wilson doesn’t want to drive the bar’s dog lovers away. Packaged snacks are an option they’ve been considering, but so far it hasn’t worked out. Lilly Wilson said the bar has worked with city officials to try to keep both dog owners and hungry bar-goers content. For the moment though, their dog-friendly model is working.

“Very few people complain,” Lilly Wilson said.

Retail shops and offices

For businesses that don’t sell food, there are no hard and fast rules about allowing dogs. Rather, it’s up to the landlord, business owner, and even the employees to decide.

Allergies are considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Employees with animal allergies can file complaints if pet dander is keeping them from their work.

Whether or not to allow animals is up to the business owner. Ariane Erickson, manager of Nora and Nicky’s consignment boutique in downtown Raleigh, said the store has been allowing customers to bring their pets since it opened its downtown location two years ago.

Erickson said pets are allowed to roam the store off leash, and the company hasn’t encountered any problems or complaints regarding its policy. If a dog is aggressive, the owner will usually refrain from bringing it around other people.

“A good owner would know,” she said.

What else you should know

All dogs must be up to date on their rabies vaccine. If you are renting space, it may be up to your landlord whether or not dogs are allowed in the building.

Incidents like dog bites should be covered by a business’ liability insurance , said Marc Meyer, general inspections manager for the Durham County Department of Public Health, similar to how an incident would be covered by homeowner’s insurance. Two percent of Americans are bitten by a dog annually, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Liability can be tricky. If someone antagonizes the dog, the victim will have a hard time winning a lawsuit. But if the dog owner knows their pet has a history of aggression, they will likely end up paying damages, said Will Webb, a defense attorney who owns his own firm in downtown Raleigh. He has been bringing his dog Rubi to work since 2009.

For other business owners who depend on customers to make money, he said, driving away people who have allergies or don’t like dogs can be a tradeoff for the owner.

“The employer has a choice to make,” Webb said. “Do you want the customer or the dog?”

Wildeman: 919-829-4845

A few dog-friendly shops:

Nora and Nicky’s

Bull City Records


A few dog-friendly breweries:

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham allows dogs both inside and out.

Raleigh Brewing Company allows dogs both inside and out.

Nickelpoint Brewing Company allows dogs both inside and out.