Linda Kramer of West Hills was up early the morning of May 26, 2009, to see her 19-year-old daughter, Kaeli, off for her first day of a summer class in physics.
It was the last time she would see Kaeli, who was killed that morning when she was hit by a garbage truck on the Farmingdale State College campus. The accident also critically injured another student.
"Kaeli was our whole life," said Linda, who, with her husband, Peter, had adopted their daughter from China as a baby.
In the weeks that followed their daughter's death, the Kramers established The Kaeli Kramer Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to continue her work in equine rescue and rehabilitation. "We have to make something good come out of something horrible," Peter Kramer said. "We must put aside our grief - it was what Kaeli would have wanted."
Plan to bring about change
Kaeli, an aspiring equine veterinarian, had just completed her freshman year at Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J., where she was pursuing a double major in biology and equine studies. She had grown up surrounded by dogs and cats that had been rescued, so she was aware that pets are often abandoned. And she was especially troubled by the fate of unwanted horses: the racing thoroughbreds that aren't fast enough, old carriage and stable horses no longer able to work, and horses whose owners no longer maintain their upkeep. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, an umbrella organization representing equine welfare groups, more than 100,000 horses in this country are exported for slaughter each year.
Becoming an equine veterinarian was part of Kaeli's plan to bring about change.
Academically, she had excelled: At The Knox School in St. James, Kaeli was class valedictorian in 2008, student council president, and the recipient of awards for academic achievement and community service. She also was an experienced equestrian and at Centenary rode on the dressage team and volunteered for therapeutic riding programs, working on certification in the field.
"Kaeli touched everybody," said equine veterinarian Dr. Pam Corey, director of Equine Law Enforcement for the New York City American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Kaeli had shadowed Corey for four summers on her veterinary rounds on Long Island. "An excellent student of life and learning - she was an inspiring girl," Corey said.
Creating a living memorial
Kaeli's namesake foundation has three components: a life skills and equine care program for developmentally disabled young adults at Islandia Farms; an operation that has rescued 19 horses, including former racing thoroughbreds; and the Kaeli Kramer Humane Education Center at the Holtsville Ecology Center, the home to two American mustangs named Callie and Valor that were rescued through the foundation's efforts. The building materials and labor for the exhibit's archway, fencing, paddocks, memorial garden and signs about the mustangs' plight were donated by local businesses, according to Brookhaven Highway Superintendent John Rouse.
"After Kaeli's death, we reached out to the family to create a living memorial to the great work Kaeli has done," Rouse said.
The foundation, which also has hosted a large-animal rescue course for emergency personnel, veterinarians and animal owners, represents what Kaeli was about, said Corey - being humane and taking care of animals.
"She would stay up all night with a horse that was not well," recalled Kaeli's childhood riding instructor Sue Mercil, director of the program for the developmentally disabled at Islandia Farms. "I have never in my life - and I have been teaching for 40 years - come across a child so gentle and giving. We still feel her loss."
Linda Kramer has recently overseen the rescue of two carriage horses. "It is important to educate people in the horse community and the public about caring for horses and treating them respectfully," she said. "We have an obligation to them - they are sentient beings with value. These horses have worked their entire lives, and they deserve a humane retirement."