Some of life’s greatest things happen at the most unexpected times. That case could be made for Ken Suter, who stumbled upon Sam one day when he was browsing the mall with his wife. Sam was part of a litter of dogs whose mom was rescued by a high-kill shelter. Once he and his six littermates were old enough, they were put up for adoption and the puppies caught the attention of his wife, who was playing with them. But there was one puppy in the corner that stood out, one puppy with huge brown eyes that would not let Ken out of his sight. “He refused to let me leave the mall without him, and that’s exactly how it started,” Ken said.
Over the course of eleven years, and like so many cherished pets and their owners, Sam and Ken developed an incredibly special bond. “He was a human with four legs and a tail,” Ken said. “The smartest dog you have ever seen in your life. He loved every person he ever met, and he especially loved cats.” Ken said Sam had super intelligence, and an extreme love and gentleness about him.
Suddenly, Ken lost Sam on December 12, 2017 and fell into a deep depression as he grieved his best friend. For about a year he suffered in sadness before he went to see a pet grief counselor. “She helped me come back into the light of life again,” Ken tearily said of Brenda Brown, the Owner and Grief Specialist at Grief About Pets in Canton, Ohio.
Ken told Brenda he wanted to honor Sam’s magnificent spirit, and she suggested he could start a non-profit in Sam’s name. “On that two-hour drive home, Samaritan for Pets was born,” Ken said. “I just spent about two years coming up with ideas, and basically the concept is we will treat people and pets like royalty because they are royalty.”
Some of those ideas include helping adopters with pet adoption fees and veterinary care. “I want to give people that one-in-a-million pet, their Sam, and it would help me heal,” Ken said. His goal is for clients of Samaritan for Pets to become family for life.
“I want to touch people’s hearts like Sam touched mine, and I want to give them a piece of him through me,” Ken said. “His love and personality lives on through me to enrich the lives of many.”
While Samaritan for Pets is in its early stages, Ken has started to build his brand and get the wheels in motion – quite literally. One unique thing Samaritan for Pets has is a custom outfitted limousine that can hold up to five humans and one pet for ‘royalty rides’. A royalty ride is a fun outing designed to bring cheer to the lives of heroes – children, the elderly, military veterans, and cancer patients, among others.
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But where did the name ‘royalty rides’ come from? “I always treated Sam like royalty,” Ken said. “I worshipped the ground he walked on. He was one of the greatest breathing beings to walk this planet, and that is better than royalty.” Ken said everyone who met Sam had a memorable experience with him, and he wants to re-create that experience now in his beloved dog’s memory. “Hopefully when we come in the presence of someone, they will never forget that experience,” he said.
To help reach his goal of offering potential adopters help with fees, and in the future helping to provide his clients with pet care and grief counseling, Ken says Samartian for Pets is working on a number of fundraisers in 2023.
Ken says the importance of properly grieving your pet cannot be understated. “I was deep in depression and grief,” he said. “When I found my pet grief counselor she helped pull me out of that dark place that I was in for a long period of time. I really just feel for people that have lost because I relive that, and if I can do something to make people feel better during their loss, then I feel better.”
Ken has been working with Brenda and said in the future she has agreed to do some free sessions, and Ken has volunteered to personally take people to group sessions in Canton. “My vision though is to have several pet grief counselors at our disposal, to get on the site and talk to grieving people.”
Ken says one day he envisions people all over the world visiting the Samaritan for Pets website if they look up pet grief, “I want it out in the open and I want to help people.”
To learn more about Samaritan for Pets and find out where and how you can donate to the organization, visit their website and like their Facebook page.
• Laurie Conway is the Marketing and Communications Director at the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. She is a Pittsburgh native that fell in love with Wheeling and the Ohio Valley when she graduated from Bethany College in 2009 with a degree in communications and digital media. Laurie spent a large chunk of her career working her way up the newsroom ladder from overnight producer to evening anchor and managing editor at WTRF, before holding a position in corporate communications and non-profit marketing. Laurie lives in Glen Dale with her fiancé Josh, their two dogs Rudy and Wrigley, and cats Clover and Pumpkin.