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Alumni Profile

Brooke Donaldson: Her Dream Job

--By Russell Alston

It’s every college student’s goal: graduate and immediately start working in your field, doing something that you love. Twenty-one-year-old Coastal Carolina University alumna Brooke Donaldson is living her dream. She went right to work after graduation for The Seeing Eye, a nonprofit in Morristown, N.J., that trains guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired.

            Donaldson graduated (magna cum laude) in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, a program that allows students to tailor a degree by creating their own curriculum. She created a focus on animal behavior by combining psychology and biology courses.

            As an apprentice instructor, Donaldson begins her day at 7:45 a.m. with feeding, medicating and running her dogs. Afterward, she takes up to eight dogs into the streets of Morristown for training: one group of four before lunch and the second group of four after. She is also responsible for grooming, maintaining the dogs’ body condition and practicing basic obedience exercises.

            “The dogs learn to stop at down and up curbs,” says Donaldson, “to signal the ending or beginning of sidewalks, how to safely navigate traffic, how to take their owner around obstacles, how to ride elevators, escalators, various forms of public transportation and how to lay quietly at a restaurant.”

            One of the most important training techniques is called intelligent disobedience. “No matter how much the person insists the dog go forward, the dog must learn to refuse in cases where going forward may cause harm, particularly in traffic situations. The dog must find an alternative route to keep themselves and their owner safe.”

            While training, Donaldson sometimes walks the dogs up to 12 miles a day, regardless of the weather. “It’s a very physical job,” she says. “By the end of the week, I am sore and exhausted.”

            But the rewards are worth it. “My favorite moment so far was when a Labrador retriever I had trained was matched with a young man,” she says. “As soon as he met her he fell on the floor with her to give her a belly rub. She kept licking his face and her tail never stopped wagging. I was later informed that he had slept on the floor with his dog the first night. It was a match made in heaven! The dogs I train give their person a new lease on life. ”

            Donaldson believes the seeds for her success were planted at CCU. “I remember how I felt that my professors were my friends and had my best interests in mind. So many others had told me that obtaining a job with The Seeing Eye would be too difficult, too competitive. But my professors, especially Scott Parker, Nelljean Rice and Lynn Willett, never doubted my abilities and encouraged me to go after my dream job.”