A New Carrollton cat lover and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals avoided a court battle over kittens and contracts yesterday when they tentatively settled a dispute over custody of a pregnant cat called Lacey.

And if things go as planned, Lacey and Cheeta, a cat who is the father of Lacey's soon-to-be-born litter, won't mate again.

Karen Salvio, who adopted Lacey from the SPCA of Prince George's County in April, had been scheduled to go before a county District Court judge yesterday morning to explain why she shouldn't be forced to return the female cat to the animal rights agency.

The SPCA had filed a complaint against Salvio because she failed to honor a contract with the SPCA that called for Salvio to have Lacey spayed by Aug. 18. Salvio didn't have the cat spayed, and while Salvio was away on her honeymoon, Lacey mated with Salvio's male cat, Cheeta. When the SPCA found out, they asked Salvio to return Lacey.

Salvio balked. She said the SPCA would have aborted the pregnancy, which Salvio didn't want to happen.

Attorneys for the two sides worked out a tentative agreement Thursday evening and yesterday gave the details to a District Court judge.

Under the settlement, Salvio has one week to have Cheeta neutered. That will keep him from impregnating Lacey while she is nursing her litter. The kittens will be placed in new homes by the SPCA, with the help of Salvio. Lacey will be spayed when she is medically able, sometime before Dec. 13.

Anthony McCarthy, an attorney for the SPCA, said the matter is resolved as long as Salvio lives up to her end of the agreement. "We're not in the business of trying to terminate pregnancies, but if the situation happens again, we will again file to protect our rights."

Salvio, who lives in an apartment complex on Riverdale Road, said she will have both cats neutered by the deadlines. She said her next problem will come from the apartment management because pets aren't allowed.

"We will move if we have to," Salvio said. "I'm not going to give up these cats. I think I've proved that."

Kathy Williamson, the SPCA volunteer who handled Lacey's adoption, said that she will no longer help place kittens in homes for the organization, "especially female kittens." She said that for every cat born to Lacey, and then adopted, there will be one less owner willing to adopt a cat from the SPCA or the county animal shelter.

"I'm sure she [Salvio] loves her cats. We differ because she does not understand why we're opposed to breeding," Williamson said. "There might be some deaths as a result of the litter. And I think that's what she fails to understand."