How a visit to Best Friends inspired a young girl to become a veterinarian

Inspired by a visit to the Sanctuary as a girl, Katie Kramer Kelley graduates Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and is now a vet.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Katie Kramer Kelley with her family volunteering at Best Friends Animal SanctuaryIf you ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up, and she answers, “a veterinarian,” you probably wouldn’t be that surprised. Like many children, Katie Kramer Kelley grew up adoring pets and dreaming of one day being a vet. But unlike many children and young adults, Katie never changed her mind, wavered in her decision or strayed from her veterinarian career path. Two years ago, she graduated from Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and since then she’s launched a successful veterinarian career in Portland, Oregon.

Following her dream to become a vet took a great deal of ambition, determination and hard work on Katie’s part. But she was also fortunate to have plenty of family support and inspiration along the way.

“My mom was vital in this support system, as she was always the one who made sure that I had everything I needed to succeed,” Katie says.

Also, because her father and aunt both have a strong interest in animal welfare, Katie had the chance to come to Best Friends when she turned 13. That family trip became a pivotal moment in the young veterinarian’s career path.

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Aspiring vet tests the waters at the Sanctuary

“I think where Katie is now in her life is partially attributable to her experiences at Best Friends many years ago,” says Kim Brandt, who is Katie’s aunt and has been a loyal Best Friends donor for 22 years. She was the one who promised her niece a trip to the Sanctuary for her 13th birthday. Kim’s mom (Bev) and Katie’s dad (Kurt) joined them on the trip.

Katie Kramer Kelley volunteering with puppies at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in 2014

For Katie, a lot was riding on that first visit to the Sanctuary. On one hand, her family wanted to support and encourage her dream. On the other hand, Katie explains, “My family wanted to make sure it was what I really wanted and not just their influence on me.”

It was time to test the waters — to ask herself if she truly wanted to pursue a career in the veterinary field or if she might want to go in a different direction.

Why Katie wanted to be a veterinarian

While Katie and her family were volunteering at Dogtown and marveled at the beauty of the Sanctuary, she came to an important realization about why she wanted to be a veterinarian. “I wanted to do something more than own pets, and I realized I had the skills, the educational opportunities and the family support I needed to realize my dream,” she says.

Volunteering at Best Friends inspired Katie Kramer Kelley to become a veterinarian

Even at such a young age, Katie says that working with the animals at the Sanctuary helped her see the bigger picture of animal welfare. “I realized that it’s more than what you are doing at the moment,” she says. “The trip reinforced my desire to be a vet. It was really a pivotal moment.”

Volunteer with animals at the Sanctuary

Ten years later, Katie was a junior in veterinary school when she came back to the Sanctuary with the same group of family members. By the time they returned for their third visit this past June, Katie had achieved her dream. Today she’s practicing veterinary medicine in Oregon and has two dogs at home.

Katie Kramer Kelley with her family at the Village at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

A young vet’s inspiring story

No matter what challenges Katie will face or how successful she will become, her family will always be there to cheer her on. After retiring from the Air Force, Kurt pursued vet tech certification, hoping that he and his daughter might someday work together.

Katie Kramer Kelley volunteering with her family pushing cats in strollers

While there’s no doubt that the young vet will return to the Sanctuary with her family, her interesting motivational story will likely inspire other aspiring veterinarians to do the same. "We love coming out here. It’s one of those vacations where you are working, but it doesn't feel like work for us,” Katie says. “It's nice to give back to a community we believe in."

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Katie Kramer Kelley in front of the Best Friends sign

Photos by Molly Wald and courtesy of Katie Kramer Kelley and Kim Brandt