She's a pretty twentysomething. Her cat, I've never met. Too late now, though. It's gone.

People abandon people all the time-emotionally, physically, financially. Most of the time, it's not a crime, at least not legally.

It is most definitely a crime to abandon an animal.

I bring this up because not too long ago a new acquaintance nonchalantly alluded to "dropping" her cat off at Griggs Dam during the course of a coffee shop conversation. She did so before going on vacation, as I seem to remember it. This was said as if she were describing what she had for lunch that day.

So it took a few moments for it to sink in. When it did, I asked her to repeat what she said. She thought nothing of it, adding that it was her mother's idea. I don't think she said she offered much resistance.

"You mean you abandoned your cat," I said, in sort of the same way as a lawyer cross-examining a witness. She looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights, realizing what she had said, maybe even what she had done.

The guilt started to pour forth. I don't want to give her too much credit, but she did seem genuine.

The deed had been done, however.

She stammered, she tried to rephrase, then she gave up.

"You're making me feel bad," she said, with a look of guilty conscience across her smooth, unlined face.

"Good," I replied. "You condemned your cat to an almost certain death." She proceeded to argue a housecat's ability to survive after being pushed out of a car in the middle of the night. I told her the cat probably lasted two weeks, if that. She was acting more upset now.

"Why didn't you take it to an animal shelter?"

She said several things in disorganized confusion: They would've just put it to sleep; the cat could fend for itself; she would've felt guiltier taking it to a shelter etc.

We were sitting with a third party, whom she looked to for validation, but he was having none of it-though he didn't seem to be nearly as disgusted as I was.

We dropped it from our conversation. And the three of us then bantered about this and that as people do in coffeehouses before we broke up amicably.

Over the weeks, though, I couldn't get past the image of a once-loved housecat trying to adapt to living in the less-than-gentle suburban wilds when it wasn't a good time for a house cat to be outside.

My sister, Pat, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, is quitting a private animal shelter after years of volunteer service. Cleaning up so many acts of cruelty has taken its toll.

She has heard it all before: the casually thoughtless explanations of why an animal is of no use to the owner anymore. Pat has definitely hardened a bit. When I told her what my coffeehouse companion had done, I was a little surprised by her reaction since she's quite religious. "I hope she gets thrown out of a car one day when someone is done with her," she said. "See, this is one of the reasons I had to quit. It makes me into a hateful person. Try as I might, I can't forgive them, for they do know what they do."

Did abandoning the cat make me judge the girl as a person?

Yes, without mercy, I might add. Over time, I was more appalled.

I saw her once after that and brought it up. If she had shown extreme remorse, I might have changed my mind about her. But she didn't.

I hope there is such a thing as a just reincarnation.