NEW YORK »The stranger approached the living-room couch and gently addressed the target.
"Hello," she said sweetly to the cat.
She planted her hand on the cat’s back, eliciting a perturbed meow; hand and cat then quickly descended into the darkness of an animal carrier, as the meow rose to a vicious snarl. Then the cat sprang free.
"Strong as a bobcat," cried the cat’s owner, who watched anxiously. A chase seemed imminent, but the stranger’s practiced hand struck again, and the cat was secured.
"I’ve never seen it done so fast," said owner Joanne O’Connor, slightly stunned. "How much do I owe you?"
The usual price is about $80 — though the service rendered was anything but usual.
Jordana Serebrenik may be New York City’s only for-hire pet-cat catcher. Her service, Catch Your Cat, Etc., does what it suggests: Serebrenik will come to your home and corral your cat in situations when you cannot do so or prefer not to.
Her clients range from the old or physically impaired to those distraught at the idea of having to force their cat to go somewhere they do not want to go: the vet, for example.
"Some people just need someone who isn’t emotionally attached," Serebrenik said.
Her business card — which asks, "Can’t get Fluffy into a carrier?" — is in veterinarians’ waiting rooms and pet supply stores around the city. Testimonials on her Facebook page are effusive.
"It’s worth every penny," said Alene Yarrow, who used Serebrenik to catch her cat when she was having work done in her apartment. "It takes away all the worry and concern off your shoulders. What she does is a blessing."
Serebrenik, 45, developed her knack for catching cats through years of animal rescue work. In 2006, after years of practicing law, she decided she needed a change. Upon returning from a six-week trip to Africa, she began immersing herself in animal care and rescue, volunteering with City Critters, a cat rescue and adoption group.
She quickly realized that she had a knack for catching troublesome cats, and credited her intuition: being able to interpret what a cat may or may not do in a tense situation. Environments have to be considered, as in securing exits like windows and doors. Also important is "being confident and not emotionally tied in," she said.
"It’s not that I don’t care," she added. "I care a lot, but I’m not emotionally tied to that animal, so I don’t get cluttered in thought."
Conducting volunteer rescues, Serebrenik said, she began to realize that there was an unmet demand for her talents, perhaps even by people who would pay for them. So she began her business in 2010.
Serebrenik is a small, upbeat woman with frizzy black hair, blue eyes and clothing that is often spotted with cat fur. Her cat-catching tools include a red nylon net bag and a pair of Kevlar and leather gloves pocked with cat bites, including one that left a deep hole.
"I was bit right behind the knuckle," she said, as though it were a mark of honor. "I had to go to the hospital."
It may seem to some that Serebrenik fills a niche found only in the most genteel parts of New York. But pet cats can turn flighty when confronted with placement in a carrier. Some may burrow behind impossible crannies for hours; others can turn defensive, growling and lashing at their benefactors.
"I see clients who come in all scratched up," said Dr. Jennifer Mlekoday of West Chelsea Veterinary. "I know of people that don’t bring in their cats for years." She explained the cat psychology: "It’s a fear of losing independence."
Natasha Cotter, an office manager for a veterinary practice on the Upper East Side who has recommended clients to Catch Your Cat, Etc., said Serebrenik "just goes in and does it."
"Clients hem and haw," Cotter said. "I liken it to kids. There are moments you just must do. If you think too much the moment’s lost, and the child knows."
Business has not been overwhelming, despite clients like O’Connor, who needed to subdue her cat for a nail clipping that was long overdue. The carrier containing her huffing cat tossed and turned for a while before subsiding.
"She’s a fighter," O’Connor said of her pet. "She’s from the Bronx."
Although the capture took less than two minutes (some take as long as 45 minutes), Serebrenik was visibly energized, pumped with adrenaline.
"This was typical," she said of the difficulty of the catch. "Not very hard. Not a dream either.
"I’m going to win," she said. "So just let me."