When Karen Salvio decided in April to add a second feline to her family, she headed to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Bowie, thinking that a cat taken from the SPCA was a cat whose life would be spared.

She picked out a small, jet-black female kitten, gave it the name Lacey, and headed back to her apartment on Riverdale Road in New Carrollton. Lacey cost Salvio only $35, and that included vaccinations and having her spayed. Lacey immediately took a liking to her new home, Salvio said, and to Salvio's other cat, a spotted male named Cheeta. In fact, Lacey got to like Cheeta well indeed.

While Salvio was away on her honeymoon for a week in August, her two cats mated. Cheeta was happy, Lacey was pregnant and Salvio was perplexed. Lacey hadn't been spayed, as her contract with the SPCA required. So, she called the organization and reported the news.

"They just went off," Salvio said yesterday. "They said we had to get the pregnancy aborted and the cat spayed immediately."

That posed a problem for Salvio, who describes herself as a good Catholic and cat lover. She doesn't believe in abortion, not for humans and not for cats. She said her contract with the SPCA says nothing about abortion.

But the contract does say that the cat remains property of the SPCA until it has been spayed. So, the animal welfare group wants Lacey back. It filed a complaint against Salvio in Prince George's County District Court, asking that Salvio be forced to return Lacey. A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

An attorney for the SPCA declined to comment on the matter because it is in litigation. Efforts to reach Louise Erlbeck, the group's president, were unsuccessful.

Salvio doesn't want to go to court. She said she fears that a judge will rule against her, which would mean the loss of her pet and an abortion for Lacey.

To head off the court case, Salvio said, she offered to have the kittens spayed or neutered at her expense once they are born, which she said "could be any day now." Salvio made a last-ditch effort to fend off the SPCA last week, when she said she offered to take into her apartment from the SPCA a number of cats equal to the number of kittens born to Lacey. Salvio said the SPCA turned thumbs down to that suggestion too.

"This cat is like a child to me," she said. "I just cannot be responsible for having these kittens put to sleep. I know a lot of people will think that I'm crazy, but I might face the judge before I let Lacey go."

Salvio also is waiting to hear from the resident manager of the Heritage Square Apartments where she lives.

It seems the complex doesn't allow pets in its apartments.