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Jane Caruso-Dahms gives her dog Bradley a high five. The photographer will exhibit her work in ‘Fidos and Footwear’ at Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston.

AIMEE DILGER/THE TIMES LEADER

Mia is a bull terrier.

Rain is a Great Dane.

Cooper is a French mastiff.

Desdamona is a Great Pyrenees.

The ballerina in toe shoes, the cowboy in boots and the fashionista in striped pumps all posed with their dogs.

Perhaps most tellingly, so did a barefoot baby, whose American Staffordshire terrier gently nuzzled the little toes.

Before you ask “So what?” please note an American Staffordshire terrier is a kind of pit bull, a breed of dog that, along with Rottweilers, German shepherds, Dobermans, Akitas and a few others, has a reputation as a troublemaker.

That reputation is an unfairly bad rap, said Jane Caruso-Dahms, a photographer who is eager to spread her message in an art exhibit titled “Fidos and Footwear.”

“I wanted the owners to have a presence,” she said, explaining all the shoes and feet, “but not everybody wants to be identified (by face). Still, shoes say a lot about a person.”

The exhibit opens Friday at Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston, during a reception at which several rescue animals may be present.

Caruso-Dahms, 40, of Kingston, owns a rescue animal herself. Bradley is a 2-year-old pitbull/Shar Pei mix, and she cites his playful presence as evidence there’s no such thing as a bad breed of dog.

“It’s how they’re treated,” she said. “If one breed is banned, drug dealers and other criminals would just turn to another” to use as a weapon or intimidation factor.

A glance through newspaper archives might lead some to believe certain breeds cause problems. Among the unfortunate situations: a Wilkes-Barre police officer investigating a hit-and-run had to shoot a pit bull that jumped on police in August 2008; a 76-year-old Clarks Summit woman needed rabies shots after a canine she identified as a pit bull attacked her and the dog she was walking; a Doberman entered a Hunlock Township home and killed cats in April 2010; and, in July 2009, a small mixed breed had to be euthanized after two pit bulls mauled it on the River Common.

The owners of the small dog that had to be euthanized, it was reported, were not interested in punishing pit bulls.

After the 2009 incident, a woman representing the family approached Wilkes-Barre City Council with an electronic petition, signed by 136 people, asking the council not to ban breeds from the River Common but to strengthen laws against neglectful pet owners.

It’s not right to blame the animal, said Caruso-Dahms, who became concerned about breed-specific rules when she lived in Lehigh Valley.

The state of Pennsylvania actually prohibits breed-specific legislation – which means a municipality couldn’t outlaw all mastiffs, say, or German Shepherds.

Still, an insurance company told Caruso-Dahms’ landlord it wouldn’t cover her building if her tenant kept her pit-bull mix.

The insurance company didn’t care that Bradley is well-behaved and gentle, or that Caruso-Dahms knows lots of people who describe similar pets as great family dogs.

The insurance hassle is a moot point, because Caruso-Dahms now lives in Wyoming Valley, where she has spent the past year compiling about 50 “Fidos and Footwear” shots, enough for a book.

About 15 of the pictures will be on display beginning Friday at Mainstreet Galleries, where co-owner Sally Casey, herself a dog owner, said she supports Caruso-Dahms’ ideas.

“I fell in love with Jane and her work the moment she opened up her portfolio and I had a chance to look at each gorgeous animal she had photographed,” Casey wrote in an email. “As a dog mom, I love the concept of showing breeds that have been targeted by breed-specific legislation and depicting them as beloved pets.”

Photographing pets of all sorts – even the occasional snake – is a niche Caruso-Dahms has carved for herself, yet she also shoots other kinds of photos.

“My clients began to get married and have kids,” she said. “So they asked me to shoot their weddings and prenatal portraits and their children.”

IF YOU GO

What: ‘Fidos and Footwear’

Who: Photos by Jane Caruso-Dahms

When: Opens Friday with reception from 6 to 9 p.m. and remains in place through July.

Where: Mainstreet Galleries, 370 Pierce St., Kingston.

More info: 287-5589

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