Joe Lhota tried to wiggle out of the cat lover's doghouse.

"I am not the anti-kitten candidate," Lhota declared Sunday during a TV debate, seeking to shed a tabloid-fueled reputation as a heartless kitty killer. "I never said I wanted to kill a cat!"

Lhota, the Republican mayoral contender, was clarifying remarks that he disagreed with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision last month to shut down service on a stretch of the B and Q lines in Brooklyn to rescue two stray kittens.

"I have pets. I love pets. I grew up with cats," he said.

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The former MTA chief insisted the cats likely would have survived without the shutdown.

"We have thousands of cats -- literally, thousands of cats -- that are in the subway system every single day, day and night, scurrying across the tracks and they don't get killed."