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Cruelty on the Couch


They explain to LaFarge that they only recently found each other. "It's a funny story," Arianne says with a shrill laugh. "He was a blind date!" Armando seems to be developing an interest in women. "After a while, we were talking and there were all these similarities," continues Arianne -- they were both into vampires and liked the same music and accessories. "Then he mentioned his dad's name," Arianne says slyly. "I didn't know my dad very well. I only met him once or twice. But I said, 'Wait a minute. That's my father! If I'm dating my brother, this is going to really suck!' "

There is a palpable chemistry between the siblings. LaFarge asks if they've had sex. "We did when we first met," says Armando, giggling. "But we don't anymore. She has a boyfriend. I might kiss her, but I won't go any further." Armando is no longer homeless; that's the good news. He is living with Arianne, her boyfriend, and their cat -- named Strife -- in exchange for housekeeping services. "We are inseparable," Armando adds, bubbling over with pleasure at having connected with his sister. That's also the bad news. LaFarge doubts that Armando and his sister can keep their hands to themselves. Now he has to not only control his rage but worry about the incest taboo, too.

LaFarge has begun to wrestle with the problem that the intervention program is much more ambitious than she initially realized. "The people who can be helped the most are the ones who anchor their lives to the therapist," she says. "You can't just drop them." LaFarge hasn't terminated anyone who wants to continue, but there are only so many hours in the day. "It was naïve to think we could stop at short-term therapy," she says. "Look at the kids in Littleton, Colorado. They had broken into a car and subsequently done really well in a juvenile alternative-sentencing program." Then they blew away their classmates. "If we're going to help, we have to give ourselves to these clients," she adds. "I don't want to read about Armando in the newspaper."

Unlike Armando, some clients may be beyond the program's reach. Joey Cohen (not his real name) was perhaps LaFarge's most frightening client. "He just went through the motions to satisfy the court," she says. Joey came from a wealthy family and somehow got a mail-order bride from China. She arrived with her daughter and her daughter's shar-pei. One afternoon, the daughter walked in on Joey sodomizing the dog. She called the police and had him arrested. The wife and daughter fled. The dog was taken to the ASPCA's clinic, where Dr. Robert Reisman, one of the A's eleven full-time veterinarians, adapted a human rape kit on the spot in an attempt to collect evidence of human sperm from the dog. Because sexual crimes against dogs are surprisingly common -- and illegal in New York -- Reisman is now working on creating a canine rape kit, so that forensic evidence of sexual abuse can be collected and standardized.

Joey pleaded guilty to the cruelty charges and was sentenced to the intervention program. But the psychotherapy had little positive effect. "Joey is not sexually attracted to dogs," LaFarge explains. "He's sexually out of control. He was so overstimulated by my attention, and the door being closed during the therapy, that he was at risk of being sexually out of control with me." Before his treatment with LaFarge even began, Joey moved on to humans, masturbating in front of a woman sitting in a parked car. He was arrested, but the woman failed to show up in court. The case was dismissed. Today, Joey is a free man.

LaFarge doesn't keep track of Joey, in part because she doesn't think it would do any good. "I called him once and he was convinced that I was calling because I missed him," she says ruefully. During their conversation, she was aware that he was masturbating. "It's only a matter of time until something else happens," says LaFarge. But there's nothing more she can do.

When asked if she thinks any of her clients have the potential to become serial killers, LaFarge replies, "Many of them do. The scary thing is, you never know which ones."

In the fall, Armando tells LaFarge that he is planning a move to California. A relative has offered him free room and board. His sister wants to go with him. Armando has finished the intervention program, gone back to court, and done everything required to close this chapter of his life. LaFarge is willing to keep the therapeutic relationship going, and certainly wants to do everything she can to prevent him from slipping through the cracks again. "Armando is not a criminal. He's not exactly a solid citizen either, but he has a social intelligence," she says with cautious optimism. "Armando has a chance at a reasonable life."

Right before the new year, LaFarge gets a call from Armando, who, it seems, has not moved to California. "He sounds terrible," she says. "He's very depressed." She arranges an immediate appointment.

Armando arrives at her office with a buddy, a quiet young man in a duckbill cap and baggy chinos. Armando -- who still refers to himself as Mitch -- looks tired and different. His hair is a rainbow of colors, crinkled like confetti. "I went to California, to Florida, to Philadelphia, and then to Ireland for Thanksgiving," he tells LaFarge, who gives him an interested but quizzical look. His travel plans, apparently, were arranged by his grandmother, who still has custody of his daughter. "She lives in Ireland but moved to New York to spend time with me," he claims. "I still have a long way to go before I can gain custody. But this will be our first Christmas together," he adds enthusiastically.

When LaFarge asks about his sister, Armando says, "Her boyfriend is my roommate now. We got together and threw her out." He has a list of complaints against his lost-and-found sister. "She was cheating on her boyfriend anyway, and she maxed out my credit cards," he says. But Armando kept the cat, briefly. "Strife always slept with me, anyway," he says (Strife is now at the ASPCA for evaluation). Armando tells LaFarge that he is working three jobs, although he just lost the one he really liked, at La Nouvelle Justine, an S&M dinner club for sexual tourists in the East Village. He becomes most animated when he mentions a girl he just met over the Internet named Cheri. "I really like her. I did the biggest no-no," he says, implying that they've already had sex. Armando, an unreconstructed romantic, imagines making a new family with Cheri and bringing home his daughter to a fantasy house that has painted dolphins frolicking all over the kitchen ceiling. "When I die, I want to be reincarnated as a dolphin," he says wistfully. In the meantime, he plans to go back to school.

LaFarge inquires about his recent depression. "It began with the death of my foster brother. He came to New York to visit me and died in a car accident, and I drank for a week," he says matter-of-factly. "Then I called you. I felt better right away. You're the only counselor I've met who listens -- who I haven't thrown a chair at."

LaFarge ends the session apologizing that she's late for a meeting. Armando grabs some chocolate for the road, gives her a hug, and says, "I'll call soon." LaFarge goes to get Sophie, her new dog, who has been playing in a nearby office. (Precious has recently been adopted into a new home.) A stray transferred from the Center for Animal Care and Control, the city's municipal pound on East 110th Street, to the ASPCA's shelter, Sophie is maybe twelve weeks old, a tan-and-white Eskimo-mix pup with a long nose. At first glance, she looks adorable. But Sophie, it turns out, is a biter -- a puppy who was so vicious that she was deemed unadoptable and scheduled for euthanasia. "Watch your fingers," LaFarge warns as she cradles the dog in her arms. Sophie owes her life to the therapist, who, needless to say, is determined to turn the little dog around. "The behaviorists are already amazed," LaFarge says in a rare moment of immodesty. Sophie looks at LaFarge and snarls.


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