PITTSFIELD -- Are pit bulls scary?

Has the press contributed to a false stereotype? Do pit bulls bite more than other types of dogs?

Are pit bulls capable of being in a loving, respectful relationship with a human?

Those are among the questions that likely will be addressed when a specialist on pit bull type breeds and canine behavior speaks Sunday at the "Love-A-Bull" event presented by the Berkshire Humane Society animal shelter at 214 Barker Road.

Caitlin Quinn is manager of the Animal Farm Foundation in Bangall, N.Y. She often works with homeless pet shelters to better understand how to handle dogs with emotional issues, and how to adjust policies so they are not discriminatory against any particular breed.

"We believe there are a lot of misperceptions of pit bull-type dogs, so we wanted to bring someone in who has a lot of experience with those breeds," said Mary Koncel, a humane educator at Berkshire Humane Society. "As with any breed, it's not the dog or event or breed that is at fault, but it's how people care for their dogs."

As prelude to the Valentine's Day weekend "Love-A-Bull" presentation, there was a kissing booth set up at the shelter on Valentine's Day. The booth featured a very "Kiss-a-Bull" dog that folks could stop and say hi to -- and get a lickin' if they were so inclined.


PHOTO GALLERY | Photos from the canine kissing booth at Berkshire Humane Society

During a phone interview, Quinn said for the most part, when people are afraid of a dog who looks like what many people refer to as a pit bull, it is the result of a "fear of the stereotypes people have come to believe."

"There is scientific data that helps us to understand dogs better," Quinn said. "Just because a dog looks like a pit bull doesn't mean it's going to be scary."

As with any dog, she noted, behavior depends on training and socialization on an individual basis. She also pointed out that there is no such breed as pit bull. The term is more of a generic term for dogs with similar physical attributes. Some pure breeds fall into that category -- such as the Staffordshire terrier -- but most of that type of "pit bull" dog are mixed breeds.

The widespread fear of pit bulls, Quinn explained, has to do with social constructs and self-created mythologies resulting from news reports that focus on the breed, not the dog or the owner.

Similar mythologies can be seen in history, she noted. In the 1800s, the fear was directed at blood hounds, which were used to track down criminals and runaway slaves. In the latter half of the 1900s, there was similar stereotyping of German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and rottweilers.

"It was the same cycle of discrimination and fear," Quinn said.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford

If you go ...

n What: "Love-A-Bull" discussion led by a specialist on pit bulls

n When: 2-4 p.m. Sunday

n Where: Berkshire Humane Society, 214 Barker Road, Pittsfield

n Cost: Free