I don't like cats, but will admit to fleeting sympathy in the death of "Baby Buntin," the nine-pound tabby that was shot to death last week during a standoff with a D.C. policeman.

Imagine the scene: Baby Buntin, his back hunched with hair standing on end, staring down the barrel of a .38-caliber revolver, fleeing after the shot is fired, then huddling near a clothesline pole with a bullet hole in his stomach.

Baby Buntin, age 5, was pronounced dead on arrival at the D.C. Animal Control Shelter. Yet, I must conclude: tough kitty.

Although an inquiry by the Metropolitan Police Department into Baby Buntin's death is not expected to be completed for another 30 days, the pertinent facts are in: Baby Buntin attacked a woman, bit her, then clawed her as she tried to dislodge the critter from her arm.

"I tried to shake it off my hand, but it clung with its claws," said Lisa Battles, 18, who had been jumping rope with neighborhood children when the attack occurred. "It took 10 minutes to get that thing off of me."

When Officer Leonard Chappell arrived outside Battles' apartment building, located at 715 Anacostia Ave. NE, he found her bleeding from one hand while pointing toward Baby Buntin with the other. Chappell looked at her hand, then looked at the cat, which he said "growled and cried like a baby."

Chappell, an 11-year veteran, called the D.C. Animal Control Shelter, but before a handler arrived, he tried to catch the cat. Baby Buntin resisted, hunched his back and straightened his hair, what Chappell called "an attack posture." When it appeared that the cat might flee, Chappell pulled his gun and killed it.

The Humane Society was furious, taking the position that no animal that is cornered has to be killed, let alone a cute little cat. But I have never heard of a cat being cornered. In the process of attacking Battles, Baby Buntin leapt at her from a beneath a bush located 15 feet away.

Luckily, Buntin went for a grown-up and not one of the children.

Francis McMillan, the owner of Baby Buntin, is certainly not alone in her sadness. Indeed, her view that "cats are better than people" is probably shared by many in this community. To make matters worse for her, Buntin was a house cat that would never have been outside were it not for a younger member of her family who inadvertently left the door open long enough for the cat to run out.

But this just makes the situation unfortunate; it does not make the shooting unnecessary. In the wake of the worst rabies epidemic to hit the Washington area in years, all weird-acting critters are suspect. The fact of the matter is that cats are among the weirdest acting of them all.

True, the McMillian family album portrays Buntin as a cream-colored fluff ball that was at its best when rubbing against human legs or bumping noses with children.

But once on the streets, Buntin showed why cats are the schizophrenics of the animal kingdom. Eating grass and coughing, Buntin may have been sick, although autopsy reports are inconclusive. Darting through the underbrush, staring, growling and crying, leaping, clawing and biting, Buntin's behavior could be described as that of a normal cat. But it also could have been that of a crazed critter.

In the end, the case of Baby Buntin will probably go down in the annals of law enforcement training manuals on how different people can view the same situation and reach different conclusions.

What Officer Chappell saw was a cat that had attacked one woman and appeared that it would do so again. With the owners away and no way of determining if the cat had rabies; with animal control authorities on the way, but with no way of knowing if the cat would wait for them, the officer's first concern should have been -- as it was -- protecting the scores of children who play in the neighborhood.

His decision to shoot Baby Buntin may not sound right to cat lovers. But people shoot raccoons, don't they?