Lawyers for a couple on trial for the fatal mauling of a neighbor opened their case Tuesday with witnesses testifying the dogs who killed the woman had been well behaved in their presence.

Dr. Stephanie Flowers, a veterinarian, said she treated one of the dogs, Hera, on April 30, 2000, for rabies shots and removal of a foxtail in her ear. She said the dog gave her no problems, although she found that the animal was underweight and had a poor coat.

"I praised her for tolerating the procedure as well as she did," Flowers said.

On cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer, she was asked about reports that Hera and another dog had bitten a man at the apartment building where they lived and lunged at other people in the street.

When asked if the dogs' behavior in those situations would pose a danger to human life, Flowers said, "I would say it's clearly inappropriate and potentially dangerous behavior."

The dogs, owned by Marjorie Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, killed their neighbor Diane Whipple, 33, a college lacrosse coach, on Jan, 26, 2001, as she tried to enter her apartment in San Francisco.

Knoller is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous dog that killed a person. Noel faces the latter two charges.

After days of testimony in which 30 prosecution witnesses told of terrifying encounters with the large Presa Canario dogs, defense attorneys Tuesday brought in the first of dozens of witnesses who had benign encounters with the animals.

The second defense witness, Allan Paul, owner of the San Francisco Brewing Company, said he knew the defendants for years and they were regular customers, coming by frequently with Hera and their other dog, Bane.

"Did the dogs get along with people going in and out of the pub?" asked Noel's attorney, Bruce Hotchkiss.

"Always," said the witness, "or I would have asked them to leave."

Under questioning by Knoller's lawyer, Nedra Ruiz, Paul said, "I never saw the dog misbehave in the least. It was very well behaved as a dog. I wouldn't have let it sit there otherwise."

On cross-examination, Paul acknowledged that he never saw the dogs in their home environment, an apartment house in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.