MAYOR Douglas Duncan of Rockville and city manager Bruce Romer have changed their minds and now want to kill those three vicious Rottweilers that attacked and mauled Arlynn Joffe and her 3-year-old son last month. This means the city's animal control board will have to reconsider its Oct. 3 decision to let the dogs live. The board should act quickly to consider the request, despite the threat of legal appeals from the dogs' owners and before the city leaders flip-flop again. But disposing of the Rottweilers shouldn't be the end of this affair. Rockville residents -- and not just those living in the North Farm subdivision where the attacks occurred -- ought to be asking how this fiasco developed in the first place so that they can prevent a recurrence.

There is something wrong with an animal control law that allows three huge biting dogs to be immediately released to the owners' custody -- to be returned directly to the very neighborhood they have been terrorizing and to the same street where the attack took place. Not much can be said for an animal control board that, confronted by angry residents, declares the Rottweilers vicious and dangerous, revokes their licenses, gets them out of the neighborhood to officially sanctioned kennels and then declares the problem solved because the dogs will be foisted off on some other jurisdiction.

It's worth noting that despite the board's quarantine orders, the owner managed to move the Rottweilers on two occasions: the first time from their home and most recently from an officially assigned kennel. And in each instance, the animal control board has had to dispatch search parties at taxpayer expense to find them. The most recent recapture occurred at 5 a.m. on Tuesday in a Bethesda apartment. The dogs are now under the control of the Montgomery County animal shelter.

Mayor Duncan calls the dogs' owner, Hagit Levin, "totally untrustworthy." City manager Romer, in his request for a new board hearing, accused her of "a wanton and reckless disregard and contempt" for the board and the North Farm community. But the authorities have their own responsibility. The city council has now drafted new proposals to update the antiquated animal control laws. A thorough hearing followed by prompt action is in order.