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Another victim of doctor's dogs

This time, ear of 3-year-old was severed

You can apparently teach an orthopedic surgeon how to become a goat farmer, but you can't teach his old dogs new tricks.

A few months after a Camden County Superior Court judge ruled that one of Dr. Robert Taffet's Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Rocky, was "defending itself" when it bit a cardiologist in the affluent borough of Haddonfield, Taffet bought a farm for $829,400 in Alloway Township, Salem County.

Rocky's case wasn't the first time that Taffet's Ridgebacks - bred to hunt lions in Africa - had landed him in court, but he and wife, Michele, hoped it was the last.

"We're looking forward to going on with our lives, hopefully peacefully," Taffet told the Daily News in February, after leaving the courthouse.

Taffet told a Salem County newspaper that he planned to raise goats for their meat on his 143-acre farm.

But a peaceful life on the farm ended for Taffet on Nov. 18, when he found himself holding a little girl's bloody, severed ear.

Cindi McVeigh, of Pennsville, Salem County, said that she had no idea that any of the Ridgebacks had ever bitten anyone when she visited the Taffets' farm that evening.

She said that her 3-year-old daughter, Claire, and her 4-year-old son, Patrick, were in a barn there with Taffet and his daughter. Then she heard screaming.

"Claire fell on the ground in the barn and, as she was getting up, made eye contact with Duke. The dog then attacked her, ripping her ear off completely," McVeigh said in an e-mail.

According to McVeigh, Taffet handed the ear to EMTs when they arrived at the home. It took several surgeries and a week in the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children near Wilmington, Del., to reattach the ear, McVeigh said, and Claire will require more operations as she grows older.

New Jersey State Police said that no charges had been filed. A local animal-control officer said that he was awaiting word from the McVeighs before he took action against Duke, one of several adult Ridgebacks that McVeigh said were at the farm.

Taffet and his attorney declined to comment about the incident. McVeigh's attorney, John Brinkmann, said that the doctor had declined to disclose his dogs' history to McVeigh.

"It just seems odd that for whatever reason, the owner felt confident enough to say, 'Don't worry, the dog is friendly,' " he said. "If [McVeigh] had an idea about the dogs, she never would have put the child down."

Susanne LaFrankie Principato, a neighbor of the Taffets in Haddonfield, and who claims that her family was terrorized by the dogs, said that she was not surprised by the attack but only that the culprit wasn't Rocky.

"I'm outraged," the former 6ABC reporter said. "This is exactly what I wanted to prevent - another child from getting bitten."

Before Nov. 18, Rocky had been the Taffet's most notorious Ridgeback. Taffet owns at least three others.

In 2002, Dr. Michael Harkins said that Rocky and another Ridgeback, the late Pluto, pinned down his golden retriever in a Haddonfield park. When Harkins tried to intervene, he was bitten so badly he required 30 stitches. In 2004, Rocky allegedly left puncture wounds in the shoulder of a 14-year-old girl who had been in the Taffet home.

There were also reports that Rocky had bitten one of the Taffets' own children and a boy at a Haddonfield Little League game in 2003, said Mario Iavicoli, Haddonfield's solicitor.

The stream of complaints led a Haddonfield municipal judge to label Rocky as "potentially dangerous," which meant that the dog would have to wear a muzzle in public. The Taffets appealed and in February, Superior Court Judge John T. McNeil reversed the initial "potentially dangerous" decision, claiming that Harkins had "overreacted" and provoked the Ridgebacks.

The ruling baffled Haddonfield officials, and the borough immediately filed an appeal that will be heard in Trenton next month.

"He should be doing these things voluntarily, not fighting them," Iavicoli said. "He has to protect the public from his animals."