Some D.C. police officers are calling it "the crazy cat caper," but for an 18-inch-high tabby named Baby Bunkums it was all deadly serious.

The cat, which reportedly leaped 15 feet from a tree Monday night onto a Northeast woman and bit her repeatedly, was shot to death by a D.C. police officer when it "assumed an attack posture" as he approached it.

Sixth District Officer Leonard Chappell said yesterday that he had never seen a feline act like the one he killed about 9:30 p.m. in the 700 block of Anacostia Avenue NE.

Chappell, an 11-year veteran of the force, was sent to the neighborhood after residents there reported that the cat had attacked several people, police officials said.

When Chappell arrived, he found a woman identified as Lisa Battles bleeding from what appeared to be "six bite marks" on her left hand and was told the cat had pounced on her from the lower limbs of an elm tree, the officer said.

Neighbors described the cat as "sickly," Chappell said, and they told him that it had run behind an apartment house. When he entered the back yard, Chappell said, "The cat assumed an attack posture. I had never in my life heard a cat growl before. It got its back curved and the hair stood on end."

Chappell felled the cat with a single shot from his service revolver, officials said.

A spokesman for the D.C. Animal Control Facility said it "appeared unlikely" that the cat had rabies but that tests were incomplete.

Chappell said he cited the owner of the cat, who lives at 715 Anacostia Ave. NE, for allowing an unleashed animal to become a nuisance on public property.

The woman who was bitten could not be reached for comment.

A resident of the Anacostia Avenue address, who refused to give her name but said she owned the cat, told a reporter last night that she believed the animal had been "bothered" by the woman and had only scratched her.

The owner's daughter said the cat had had its shots and was usually friendly, even lovable.

The owner said she thought killing the cat was unnecessary, but that she did not want to discuss it further while police are investigating.

The Washington Humane Society is also looking into the incident. Jan Marks, manager of the society's shelter, said last night, "We do not feel that an animal that is cornered has to be killed, regardless of what size it is.

"Unfortunately," Marks said, "people who are not trained to deal with situations like this often shoot first and worry about the rights of the animal later."

Chappell also termed the shooting "unfortunate," saying, "I didn't seek to take someone's house pet away from them."