There were countless reasons for the 3,000 guests to turn their heads Saturday afternoon at Ethel Kennedy's annual Hickory Hill Pet Show in McLean - an earless rabbit, a visit by president Carter's daughter Amy, a dog suffering from acne and too many Kennedys to keep track of.

There was only one attraction, however, that forced the guests to turn on their heels and run like crazy.

That attraction was Suzie, a 6,000 pound Indian elephant from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Evidently spooked by a barking dog as she was led toward her truck, Suzie rumbled off into the midst of this 20th annual party.

No one was seriously injured, but the errant elephant frightened more than a fe on her romp across the six-acre Kennedy estate - including Amy Carter, ringmaster Art Buchwald and his five judges: HEW Secretary Joseph Califano, George Stevens of the American Film Institute and his wife Liz, Washington Post editorial page editor Philip Geyelin and Pat Mitchell of Channel 5's "Panorama."

As Suzie trotted through the roped-off show ring - sending Buchwald, judges and dozens of per-clutching children scrambling to safety - Liz Stevens attempted to change the elephant's mind by punching her in the trunk.

Suzie had gained considerable speed by the time she crossed the show ring, and was headed toward the rear of the estate. There in her path, between the pool and the tennis courts, was Amy Carter, who had earlier taken a quick ride on the beast and was now being escorted around the grounds by Ethel Kennedy's 21-year-old daughter, Courtney.

Amy was hoisted out of Suzie's way by Secret Service agents, and the elephant crashed through a wooden fence into a neighbor's yard, where she was finally subdued and led to her truck for the ride back to the Capitol Centre. A secret Service agent broke a finger and wrenched an ankle in the episode. One can only wonder about his accident report: "Cause of injury: elephant?"

Courtney, one of many siblings of Ethel Kennedy. Ethel's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) who joined their parents, aunts and uncles at the estate Saturday, was left to wander amidst the trees and shrubbery, calling out Amy's name. "We were separated," she explained. "I know she's here somewhere . . .?

The Secret Service had taken Amy back to the Kennedy house, where she and Courtney soon were reunited. Spokeswomen for the White House and the circus yesterday reported both Amy and Suzie to be fine, although it could not be determined whether the same held true for the Kennedy's neighbors.

"I understand our neighbor came out of his house," Ethel Kennedy said later. "They tell me he just stod there for a moment, shook his head, and went back inside."

Buchwald, on the other hand, would later claim: "I threw my body on top of Joe Califano and saved the secretary's life." When Califano heard this he laughed loudly and suggested that he might have been better off under the elephant.

Dressed in a ringmaster's red coat, top hat and boots, buchwald raised his riding stick in the air to respond to Califano's life," he said, and paused to think for a moment. "I'm propbably the only person in the country who wanted to save Joe Califano's life."

It was suggested later by an onlooker (and astute political observer) that next year the Kennedy's ought to offer donkey rides.

Many of the on lookers were indeed either political observers (and astute political observer) that next year the Kennedys ought ot offer donkey rides.

Many of the on lookers were indeed either political observes (like Roger Mudd of CBS, who was helping assorted Redskins run their annual obstacle course), former political observers (Eric Sevareid, dressed in a safari suit and walking leisurely with his wife near the hot-dog stand ) or political-type friends of the Kennedy family (Stan Pottiner, special assistant in the Justice Department's civil rights division, who brought his children and their dog).

Most of the guests were families with children, several hundred of whom had brought their dogs, cats, gerbils, snakes, rabbits, lizards, turtles and guinea pigs. All of them had paid $5 for admission to benefit Runaway House, which is operated by Special Approaches to Juvenile Assistance, Inc.

It was the pets themselves - thanks largely to Buchwald and a public address system that even a rogue elephant failed to cut off - that wound up with the largest and loudest share of attention among the food stands, balloon vendors, "slide for life" cable ride, continuous performances of "Mister Roger's Neighborhood," and the "play-soccer-with-the-Diplomats" field nearby.

No pet who entered the show ring left without some sort of ribbon, including the "most unusual" entries: a cat with a hairlip, the earless rabbit and the dog with acne ("It's a real problem," Buchwald explained).

There were only two entries in the feathered class: a parrot and a parakeet. Buchwald huddled with the judges for a moment, then strode over to the birds. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced,"we have a tie for first place."