Rockville officials said last night three Rottweilers that mauled a woman in September have been illegally taken from a kennel by the dogs' owner and placed in new homes outside the city.

The dogs' owner, Hagit Levin, acknowledged taking the animals on Sunday from a kennel where the city was keeping them, but denied any wrongdoing and said she had told city officials of her plans.

"They knew I was coming to the kennel on the 21st," Levin said. "It was up to them to send an appropriate representative of the city."

City officials said they learned only yesterday that the dogs had been taken. Mayor Douglas Duncan said city officials want to press charges against Levin. "We view this as a very serious violation," Duncan said. "No one regrets this more than the city."

Duncan said the city had referred the matter to the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office and is contemplating legal action against the kennel, which has not been publicly identified.

The Rockville Animal Control Board ordered the dogs banned from the city last month, but Mark Joffe, the husband of the woman who was attacked by the dogs Sept. 15, has appealed that ruling and seeks an order to have the Rottweilers killed. The dogs were being kept at the kennel pending the outcome of the appeal.

Joffe, whose wife, Arlynn, required 150 stitches to close the wounds of the mauling, called yesterday's developments "pretty bizarre and disturbing." He said his family is frightened because "we don't know where the dogs are."

Duncan said that Levin "lied to the kennel" to retrieve the dogs. But Levin said her attorney hand-delivered a letter to the city Friday announcing her intention of retrieving the animals. "There was an order, an agreement and I notified the city two days before," Levin said. "I went in broad daylight."

A city spokesman said the city received the letter yesterday, postmarked Friday.

Levin said last night one dog, 2-year-old Caesar, was "on his way" to Israel to live with her parents. She would not give the whereabouts of the other dogs, 4-year-old Lear and 2-year-old Bear.

Norman Oremland, president of the North Farm Citizens Association, which is backing Joffe's appeal of the Animal Control Board's ruling, said last night Levin "has gone out of her way to take care of her self-interests. Her emotional attachment to these dogs has overcome the laws of society."

Some residents blame the city for its handling of the case. "I don't think there is any end to what the city can do to screw this up," said Randy Slovic. Said Jean Collin: "We're just beside ourselves. But what can we do at this point?"