HOLIDAY SEASON notwithstanding, what did anyone do to deserve the criminal nonsense so proudly proclaimed in the name of an "Animal Liberation Front" this week? Said group, person or pack-- it's unclear--claims responsibility for a Christmas Day raid on the Howard University Medical School Laboratory in which between two and three dozen cats used in experiments were spirited away. The excuse for this break-in, as offered by a spokesperson who denies having participated in the actual catnapping, was a concern for the "rights" of animals in general and the treatment of these in particular.

We have nothing against cats. We're 100 percent behind the humane treatment of every feline being on Earth--we guess. But there is nothing cute, courageous, praiseworthy or excusable about this incident. The cats involved, in fact, were being used in important research, including experiments on nerve transmission. Other animal experiments at this same lab are credited with helping discover a diagnostic agent for sickle cell anemia. An official also noted that the cats are routinely caged with as much food and water as they will consume. Also, the laboratory is accredited by the American Association of Accreditation for Laboratory Animal Care, and maintains three licensed veterinarians on its staff.

Why should cat-lovers and others who abhor animal abuses be relieved that some unfamiliar group broke two windows, committed property damage in excess of $2,600 and stole cats for reported distribution to certain people said to have been warned in advance that they were receiving stolen property?

Howard was chosen, according to the raid relations director, because "many people in the Washington area are sympathetic to the movement" and because there are "a number of radical groups willing to risk jail for their fellow creatures."

We doubt it. But if that's a risk some people do willingly assume, suitable correctional cages may await the convicted.