After a debate that raged into the wee hours yesterday, Rockville officials cobbled together an agreement that allows the three Rottweilers that mauled a mother and child to live. But the dogs must be separated, placed in new homes outside the city and the animals' owners are barred from keeping other dogs in their home.
The three-member Rockville Animal Control Board approved the agreement at 2:18 a.m. after an emotional and sometimes confrontational seven-hour hearing on the fate of the three dogs who attacked Arlynn Joffe, 39, and her 3-year-old son, Brett, on Sept. 15.
More than 100 people crammed into the Rockville City Council Chamber for the hearing. The audience was divided among neighbors demanding the dogs be destroyed, supporters of the dogs' owners urging compassion and the curious drawn by the publicity.
Hagit Levin delivered an impassioned hour-long plea to spare the lives of her dogs. "If you sentence someone to jail, there is a way to change the verdict," she said. "But if you kill my dogs . . . this is life and death to me."
Afterward, most of the participants lauded the agreement. "It brings to a closure this unfortunate incident," said City Manager Bruce Romer. Hagit Levin said, "Justice has been served. I'm very sorry about what happened."
But Mark Joffe objected to the compromise, saying he and his wife wanted the dogs destroyed. "The dogs committed a very dangerous, vicious act," he said. "If they are permitted to go elsewhere, we may not have the luck that the person will survive."
In a petition to the board, city animal control officials charged that the three dogs, Lear, Caesar, and Bear, "aggressively and without provocation" attacked Arlynn Joffe and her son while they were walking along Green Pasture Drive.
The mid-morning dog attack traumatized the North Farm neighborhood, pitting neighbors against one another and engendering such hostility that the Levins said they plan to move. The incident also upset many residents, angered by what they termed the city's inadequate animal-control laws and inept handling of the case, because the city didn't immediately take custody of the dogs after the attack.
The transfer of the dogs to new owners is expected to begin shortly, officials said. City officials seized the dogs Sept. 18 from the owners and have held the animals in an undisclosed Montgomery County kennel.
By Monday, Caesar, a 1-year-old male dog, may be on the way to Israel to Hagit Levin's parents and 15-year-old brother, said the Levins's attorney, Sanford Z. Berman. Bear, a 1-year-old male sibling, will be placed with a new owner on a 400-acre farm in Howard County. Lear, the 5-year-old mother of the two younger dogs, will be moved to an undisclosed four-acre site in Maryland.
The agreement also declares the dogs dangerous, which means they could be required to be confined or muzzled. The three Rottweilers involved are banned from Rockville's 11.6 square miles.
Hagit Levin found the new homes for the dogs, which she described as "three children of mine." Levin, a former Israeli Army officer, said she bought Lear as a puppy in her homeland and brought the dog to the United States three years ago when she got married. The dog was a "maid of honor" at the wedding, Hagit Levin said.
Though neighbors testified that the Levins had mistreated the dogs, several friends of the owners disputed the claims. "They are very responsible, conscientious pet lovers," said Elizabeth Kessler, who had bought one of Lear's nine puppies from the Levins.
Witnesses said the dogs surrounded Arlynn Joffe, who clutched the child in her arms, as the dogs repeatedly bit her on the legs and thighs. Joffe was hospitalized for three days and required 150 stitches for her wounds. The toddler also suffered minor injuries.
Mark Joffe said yesterday his family remains scarred by the attack. Joffe said his son "became hysterical and suffered nightmares" after seeing a dog on the street a few days ago. "He's afraid to go outdoors," Joffe said.