A TELEPHONE CALL brought news of the emergency. A cat had been abandoned - a young, unneutered female, in heat, terrified, left behind by the woman who'd quit the apartment.

An acquaintance of the woman told the landlord that a neighbor had agreed to take the creature. The acquaintance lied.So now the cat crept in and out through a door left ajar, crying at other tenants' windows, no doubt pursued by the roaming, uncared-for toms belonging in a casual way to other careless lodgers of that neighborhood, or to no one.

That's how it goes for animals that are invited in to share a life, then, when the sharing is inconvenient, are summarily cast out again.

We had friends, once, who euthanized a pet they'd had for years - in perfectly good health - because they imagined it might be troublesome to take with them on their move to another state.

I have to say our feelings about those people never were quite the same afterward.

So what of this orphaned creature, left to make its way? Nothing good could come of it, that much we knew.

It's different, somehow, with country cats. You see them ghosting off into the weeds, or their eyes reflecting from the road ditches. And you understand that they are capable.

They know the secret runways of the field mice and the voles. Gone half-feral, partway back to nature, they might take a small rabbit from time to time or a nestling bird. Unhappy as that sounds, it's nature's way.

About people they are perfectly indifferent. They go and come as they please, live as it suits them, bear their careless litters, and, in winter, find shelter in a barn or under the floor of a shed.

Sometimes it's possible to capture and gentle a wild one like that. If they've grown to that life, though, there always will remain something independent about them. They remember the possibility of providing for themselves.

But for the city cat, there's both the comfort and the terrible risk of being a tame thing. The food dish and water bowl are essential. The touch of a hand is needed. And outside, there's no grassy meadow, no safe place. Only the street and the heartless tires.

Give in entirely to domesticity - whether you're a cat or a man - and there's no real likelihood of becoming whatever else it was you might have been.

It appears that responsibility for dealing with this case of abandonment has fallen, by default, to us. We'll capture the frightened creature, pay to have the necessary surgery performed. And in time we'll find it a home, as we have for so many others before.

But it would give me enormous satisfaction to track that wretched woman to wherever she has gone and identify her to the proper authorities - if there were such - as someone not ever again to be trusted in any matter large or small.

Certainly not to be trusted with the care of anything alive.

What she has committed is an act of betrayal. There's no other word for it. Probably she would have some flimsy excuse to offer. The faithless usually do.

Behavior like that reveals a great deal about character. And like bad credit or conviction for a crime, the record of it ought to follow one through a life.