Voices. In her head. The bad kind. She says the dog is taunting her, confessing to wild impulses, putting troublesome pictures in her brain. She looks down at it. The dog is quiet; the dog is not even real. The dog is in a snapshot resting in her palm. "Okay, you're going to listen to me now," commands Diane Forestell, pet psychic.
For snickering skeptics, the scene is something like Johnny Carson's cartoonish psychic Carnac. But Diane Forestell has a healthy clientele of believers. Sitting in her Falls Church office, she fingers this photograph of a benign-looking German shepherd and solemnly announces, "I'm going to have a serious conversation with this dog now, the twerp. I can see he's doing things he absolutely shouldn't."
Never mind that the dog is about 10 miles away in his Fairfax home, or that he is actually a she named Heidi. Forget that Forestell has never met Heidi or her owners. Being a psychic in famously affluent, conspicuously consumptive Fairfax County these days means that Forestell generally gets $100 an hour no matter the circumstances. She bends over the photo given her by a reporter, her lips silently moving in telepathic discussion with the dog.
Silence, please. Open the heavens. Now and then she provides brief updates for the benefit of the psychic-impaired. "I am now saying, 'Silly dog,' " she reports. "I'm going on now: 'You're annoying people. Let me tell you what you gotta stop doing.' "
Dr. Dolittle, meet Dr. Ruth. She rhapsodizes about communicating telepathically with lethargic horses in Arizona, sullen cats in New Zealand, a truculent German shepherd in Germany, lascivious mares in Maryland.
Two weeks into 2000, things have never been better for Forestell, who is much more than an "animal communicator," long having promoted herself as a people psychic and "channeler" through which spirits and even a deity can speak. Ridiculed in her early days, reluctant for a time to come out of the closet with her parapsychology passion, she now finds herself floating blissfully toward what looks to her like the mainstream.
The sober Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals of Northern Virginia is hosting one of her psychic seminars at a Fairfax park Saturday. Her year-old company's clients include businessmen yearning to discover whether their "energy fields" signal that the time is ripe or disastrous for new investments.
Welcome to another 21st century information gold-mine-in-waiting, if the 49-year-old former stockbroker realizes her wish. "There'll be a much greater demand for us with every year," she says.
Divorced and the mother of three, she plunged into parapsychology in the early '80s. What she sees now is the perfect convergence of public restlessness and spiritual famine--boom conditions for a psychic. "People want to get out of their old boxes. We're in a new era. This is the age of knowledge, the self-discovery age. People want spiritual fulfillment. And they can afford it. There's never been a better time."
Bending over Heidi's photo, "I'm going to concentrate now," she says. She has been told nothing about this German shepherd, but no matter: A frowning Forestell says she can see at this very moment that the dog has an annoying habit of jumping on people when it shouldn't. The dog has just boasted of his sin to her, telepathically, along with cockily confessing that he likes to goose people with his snout because, well, goosing humans is just so darn funny.
Forestell groans, appalled. She is a mercurial woman with a pale and extraordinarily expressive face, waxy-like and very malleable, which serves an an entertaining barometer for what's happening on the other end of her conversations with the cosmos. Her expression twists, by turns, into a wince, an exasperated scowl, a sly smile. She's suddenly atitter, charmed by the rogue canine, as if he-who-is-a-she is as seductive and witty as Hugh Grant. "Oh, he has a great personality. Totally cool."
Her clients take a greyhound-size leap of faith in what she says she can do for them. "I wouldn't know how to do it," says Irene Morgan, whose cat, Coco, received telepathic counseling after it began chewing up furniture and generally acting like psycho kitty. Forestell, Morgan says, "has a gift that not many people will ever possess, unfortunately. . . . I can't see what Coco is thinking. But I want to."
That contrast, that resulting sense of void, is what lures many to Forestell's office. Enthralled, they hear stories, such as the one about her barnside visit to a heartbroken Virginia horse dumped by his filly for the stable's new stud. They want to enter the next dimension with Forestell, hungry to transcend themselves. "We're so closed to things when maybe if we tried, we'd know more," Morgan says. "We gotta look beyond ordinary life. She can."
Even death can't deter her. When shown a photograph of Timi, a California pooch believed long gone by its owners, Forestell works to establish a link. She declares the dog alive and cohabiting with a kind elderly woman in--she pauses--"I want to say Silver Spring."
Upon learning that the dog was euthanized in Southern California, she sighs, searching for an explanation for the flawed signal. "Well, whatever happened to the dog must have been done near an interstate, because I see an interstate, which is why I said Silver Spring. Does that make sense?"
Death is tricky. What she emphasizes more is her work with the living: the depressed, the antisocial, the insomniac yappers, the goo-in-the-shoe perverts, the chewers and the troublemakers. The list of those in need of behavior modification seems endless.
She makes house calls. A year ago, in Burke, she aggressively confronted Morgan's mischievous Burmese cat after Coco went on its chewing spree. "I went Alpha on it," she says. "I said, no more chewing or its owner was going to send him back to the breeder."
Morgan looked on quietly. "Coco wasn't even in the same room as Diane most of the time," she recalls. "Diane just did it telepathically. You really couldn't see that anything was happening. But the furniture stopped getting chewed, so I'm a believer."
If their own limitations bother Forestell's clients enough, they can take psychic classes from her. There also are "Evenings With the Buddha," in which Forestell falls into a trance and becomes a channeler through which Buddha speaks on personal growth issues and takes questions from the audience.
A hint of her broadening appeal is reflected in her SPCA-sponsored Pet Psychic seminar scheduled for Saturday at Wakefield Recreation Center in Annandale, where, for $10 a head, she'll look at selected pet photos and engage in more telepathic chats. "A lot of people are now curious about us," she says. "It's a natural evolution. . . . At one time, people thought acupuncturists and chiropractors were no good. Now a lot of people go to them. You'll see the same thing with us. Most people will be able to communicate telepathically by 2050."
She lets that take, then adds: "But what if you can't?"
Should that happen, in Forestell's view, you'll have cheated yourself out of key business and social skills; you'll be cast out of the vanguard, left in the dust with the computer illiterates. So sorry, Java Man.
The company she founded, Future Inc., now has six "intuitive consultants," including "medical intuitives," as Forestell calls them, who assist people wanting to better understand the type and depth of their illnesses.
The company is also hard at work wooing the Northern Virginia business community. "The strong economy has made the Herndon-Reston-Loudoun area a Mecca for growth," a recent Future newsletter said. "People are discovering our potential in helping companies develop their competitive edge. Real estate is a hot commodity right now. Are you considering purchasing a new property? . . . [W]ould you like to know about the energy alignment?"
There can be no energy reading right now, however. She is back to that photograph in her palm. The German shepherd, she advises, is teasing her, yapping that people are a repressed species squeamish about their bodies. "I'm telling the little twerp to just stop it," she says, bowing her head over the snapshot. "I'm saying to him, 'No more jumping, no more goosing.' I'm being firm, I'm being a little Alpha. He's being agreeable. I think he'll obey. He's not promising, but I think he's okay with it."
Nobody else in the room refutes this. One of the nice things about being a pet psychic is that your work is up there in the cosmos, out of touch, beyond scrutiny. There are not many $100-an-hour jobs like it.
"I think we'll see many more animal communicators in the years to come," says Diane Forestell, whose vision on this point sounds absolutely prescient.
CAPTION: Pet psychic Diane Forestell communicates with her dog Sparky as daughter Amy, 20, sits beside her, holding their cat Muffy.