When you first view I’m Not a Monster’s website, you’re greeted by a host of pictures of dogs. Some are sleeping, some are goofy, but no two are alike. I’m Not a Monster is “an advocacy initiative that aims to dispel myths associated with misunderstood dog breeds.” Although I’m Not a Monster is not a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit group, it operates as a not-for-profit organization, solely funded by the founder. We were impressed with the positive environment it has created on the website and within the Facebook community, so we got in touch with the founder, Imelda Suriato, to find out more!
In January of 2010, Suriato and her husband rescued Rosco, a 10-month-old puppy who was malnourished and being abused by his owner. When family members learned that Rosco was a Pit Bull, they reacted strongly, instructing Suriato to get rid of the dog or have him put down. Fortunately for Rosco, Suriato and her husband knew better than to fall prey to the sensational horror stories about Pit Bulls in popular culture. Instead, they gave Rosco their love and affection, along with careful training and understanding. They later adopted another Pit Bull, Rudy, who has brought much joy to Rosco and the rest of the family. Rosco and Rudy are both about five years old now, and the Suriatos hope to enjoy them for many more years to come.
Rosco’s beginnings and her family’s reaction led Suriato to start I’m Not a Monster to celebrate responsible pet ownership, as well as educate the public about what wonderful pets dogs like Pit Bulls are. She feels the biggest issue facing Pit Bulls today isn’t the media, but the irresponsible owners. “Ill-informed owners need education and resources to be better owners — they just don’t know better,” says Suriato.
To help educate the public on responsible pet ownership, Suriato took to the Internet and Facebook, creating a community where the dogs tell the stories, not the people. Suriato believes in giving the dogs a voice because “the public and media rarely give these [dogs] a chance.” This unique approach has clearly been a success, if the ever-increasing Facebook following is any indication.
Suriato has also used her website and Facebook presence to raise funds to help shelters and dogs in need. She donates the proceeds from the store on a regular basis, as well as host a Monster Holiday Drive each year. The Holiday Drive involves “elves” around the country setting up donation boxes and collecting mail from donors to send to the shelters on I’m Not a Monster’s donor list. The Monster Drive started in 2012, after organizers saw dog toys on clearance and realized how much they had in common with dogs left in shelters. The first year, the drive amassed more than $20,000 in donated items for shelters. Overwhelmed by this response, I’m Not a Monster hosted another Monster Drive last year and collected $100,000 in donations. BarkBox jumped on board and generously sent boxes to each “elf” for the shelters. This year, it plans to start the drive in October to hopefully double their numbers.
It’s amazing that Suriato manages to oversee the I’m Not a Monster website, Facebook page, the store, and fundraising events, all while still working a day job for a marketing agency in bustling New York City. Suriato doesn’t consider herself a hero, though. Instead, she sees her efforts as a “uniting force, a connector of good, selfless people who are focused on doing the hard work but not seeking the limelight.” She hopes to keep I’m Not a Monster running as a continuous, positive voice for dogs, as well as ensuring continued success of the Monster Drive.
Part of what keeps her going is the success stories. The Suriatos are particularly proud of the part they got to play in Bailey’s story, a blind and deaf dog who was dumped in a parking lot in Houston. Together, the I’m Not a Monster Facebook community helped Bailey find her new home in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she inspired her family to start the Hearts Alive Village, a nonprofit dedicated to finding homes for cats and dogs.
Our hat is off to Suriato and her efforts to maintain a positive community for dog lovers to share their dogs’ stories, as well as fight breed-specific legislation and lead fundraising campaigns for shelter dogs and others in need!
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