Phoebe is a service dog who has been with Ortiz at UNC for three semesters now.
“Before I got her, I came here for one semester and had to leave because (of) my disabilities,” Ortiz said. “I couldn’t function really or like barely scraping by, so I took off.”
Simon Bloor, assistant director of Accessibility Resources and Service, said his office helps students with service animals on campus within legal parameters, but his office doesn’t have to be involved because it is a federally mandated right to have a service animal.
“Our office really is to assist with easing or facilitating that use for the student so that they feel comfortable and confident in the use of a service animal across campus,” Bloor said.
Sophomore Jackie Larrauri is in the process of getting a guide dog, which is a type of service dog.
“Guide dogs are given to mainly people who can’t see at all or have light perception,” Larrauri said.
Larrauri said one of the first steps in the process of getting a service dog through The Seeing Eye, a guide dog training program, is explaining why you want a service dog.
“So when I have my cane, the cane is trained to find chairs and obstacles and hit them, whereas a guide dog is just going to go around those obstacles,” Larrauri said.
Ortiz said she has had an overall good experience on campus, but she said she has experienced problems going into dining halls. She said a manager at Top of Lenoir once told her she couldn’t enter with Phoebe because there was exposed food.
Ortiz said as long as Phoebe is under her control and is a legally defined service dog, she is allowed to accompany her anywhere.
“There is obviously a lack of education among some of the employees,” Ortiz said.
Bloor said ARS tries to work with staff to let them know that certain students might be coming into their area with a service animal, but it is difficult to keep every staff member in the conversation.
Ortiz said one of her biggest difficulties is people on campus not respecting Phoebe as a service dog.
“If you want your puppy fix, go to a pound or go to therapy dogs or whatever,” Ortiz said. “But just respect that the dog is working.”
Ortiz said general etiquette is to not talk to or pet a service dog. She said talking to a service dog is almost more distracting to her than just petting the dog.
“Like (Wednesday), a cashier on campus, she said hi to my dog and was calling over to her and Phoebe gave in and she pulled and I almost fell down,” Ortiz said.
Allan Blattner, director of Housing and Residential Education, said the housing department has a variety of rooms to accommodate any situation a student might need help with.
“Some of our buildings, for example, are less accessible than others to folks who have a wheelchair need or that kind of accessibility,” Blattner said. “So it has less to do with the service animal component and more to do with what it is the nature of their situation that brings them to need a service animal.”
Ortiz said she lived in Odum Village last year, but she was glad to move because it did not have an elevator. Ortiz now lives in Ram Village Apartments.
“I’m glad I’m not there anymore because it’s not accessible,” Ortiz said. “I have pain and fatigue and I had to go up three flights every single day because it was on top of a hill on the second floor and so it was very painful.”