A Salem County animal control officer filed charges today against a Haddonfield man after one of his Rhodesian Ridgebacks allegedly attacked a 4-year-old girl and bit off her ear.
The charges against Robert Taffet, whose champion dogs have landed him in court in Haddonfield in the past, follow an incident at the Taffet family farm in Alloway last month.
The girl, Claire McVeigh, had walked into a barn on the property with Taffet's teenage daughter, when she fell over and "Duke" lunged at her, according to her mother, Cindi McVeigh. The girl was rushed to a children's hospital in Wilmington, where she underwent surgery to reattach her ear.
"If I knew what had happened before I wouldn't have brought the kids," McVeigh said. "I've heard different stories about the dogs defending themselves. The whole excuse thing. . . I don't know. If it was my dog, I wouldn't think twice about putting it down."
Taffet was formally charged with owning a vicious dog and could be forced to have the offending dog put down, said Ned Shimp, Alloway Township's animal control officer.
Reached by telephone, Taffet said "there's a lot of misinformation," but declined to comment further until consulting with his attorney. A spokesman for his attorney also declined comment.
Taffet and his dogs are well-known to some neighbors in Haddonfield, who have campaigned for the last two years to have the dogs removed, put down or at least labeled "potentially dangerous," a moniker that carries with it sharply defined rules on how the dog is handled.
Taffet was charged in Haddonfield after his champion Rhodesian Ridgebacks "Rocky" and "Pluto" allegedly bit a cardiologist out walking his dog in 2002, resulting in some 30 stitches, and allegedly attacked at least four other people in separate incidents.
"Two, three years ago, I could see both sides," said Julie Hughes, who lives next door to the Taffets. "We've been through this before. (Taffet) has been through the courts with Rocky. Now this one, Duke, has done this."
The dogs were exonerated by a Superior Court judge earlier this year, overturning a previous ruling, declaring "Rocky" had been provoked in 2002.
Haddonfield has appealed the Superior Court ruling, said borough solicitor Mario Iavicoli.
"We think enough is enough," he said. "It's a situation in which (Taffet) has this love for these dogs. In his view the dogs never do any wrong."
In the relatively small world of competitive dog showing, Taffet is well known for Rhodesian Ridgebacks, which were bred by African tribesmen to hunt lions and are named for the line of fur sticking up along their backs.
Both "Rocky" and "Pluto," who is now deceased, won a number of area competitions, said Sandra Gordon, of Philadelphia, who shows Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
"I've always known (Taffet) to be responsible and take good care of his dogs," she said. "Rhodesian Ridgebacks are pretty good dogs, as long as they're well socialized."