To owner Robert Lauder of Damascus, Merlin was a gentle pet. The gray wolf liked to play chase and tug-of-war and other dog games.

He had an annoying habit of bounding onto the living room couch, but showed gracious endurance when Lauder's 9-month-old son pulled his tail.

To neighbor Francis Pare, however, Merlin was a vicious animal that broke his chain Sunday afternoon while his owners were away, charged into the Pare yard and terrorized Pare's children.

Pare said the wolf stopped coming at him only after he beat it repeatedly with a clothes-hanger rod.

Other neighbors telephoned Montgomery County police. An officer, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, shot and killed the unconscious animal at the scene -- in order, Lauder said he was told, to put it out of its misery.

The death of Merlin has created an ugly controversy among neighbors in the Plantation section of Damascus in upper Montgomery County.

Yesterday, the Lauders obtained a court summons for Pare on the grounds of cruelty to animals; a police spokesman said that a summons is reserved for lesser offenses and does not require the defendant's arrest.

Karen Halverson, a neighbor who witnessed the incident, called the beating "a terrible way for an animal to be treated."

"I saw that he was hitting violently on the dog," Halverson said. "At first, he got the wolf down on his ground and then he was stabbing it with this . . . thing. Some of my neighbors went up to talk to him and he started screaming at them."

Merlin, described as one-eighth German shepherd and seven-eighths Montana gray wolf, had been a controversial presence in the community since the Lauders moved there six months ago. Robert Lauder, a Potomac painting contractor, and his wife, Becky, had raised the 2 1/2-year-old wolf from a cub; they bought it from friends in Virginia who breed wolves.

"A lot of people asked about him ," said Becky Lauder. "They said, 'That's a strange-looking Husky.' We explained that he was perfectly legal. I had him licensed and he had his shots every year."

Robert Lauder said Merlin previously had broken loose from his chain about four months ago, got into a fight with a neighborhood dog, and bit the dog's owner on the calf when he tried to break up the fight.

On Sunday, after the Lauders left for a family outing at Harpers Ferry, Merlin apparently broke his chain.

Witnesses said they saw the wolf wandering up and down the street; some say he tussled with the Pare's small dog and bit it.

Pare, who had previously warned the Lauders to keep the animal chained and away from his family, said Merlin jumped on him, nicked him on the wrist and ran away.

When the animal returned a few moments later, Pare drove him away with the three-foot-long rod.

"He came back a third time," Pare said.

"My kids started running and he started running after my youngest, 3-year-old girl . . . It was either him or me. So I didn't take no chance. The last time I struck him, I hit him in the head and he went down and didn't get up."

Robert Lauder said his family returned home Sunday to find a note on the door from the police, saying the wolf's body had been taken to the county animal shelter.

County animal control director Tom Ferguson said yesterday that he doesn't know what condition the wolf's body was in when it was brought to the shelter.

Becky Lauder said she cannot understand the violence of Pare's action.

"I asked Pare why he didn't call all his kids inside and call the humane society," she said.