Despite the pandemic, Chubba the pit bull continues to report for work, even though the only pats on the head and treats she earns come from her owner, Deirdre Drohan Forbes of Hastings.
Forbes is a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker. Chubba, who is tan and white with caramel-colored eyes, a wide grin, and one ear up, one ear down, is a trained Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.). Together they participate in “Paws for Reading with Chubba,” a monthly virtual program offered by the Dobbs Ferry Public Library.
Chubba, who is believed to be around 5 years old, received her basic training from Port Chester Obedience Training Club in White Plains, and her certification from Therapy Dogs of Rockland.
“Paws for Reading with Chubba” is designed to help children, age 4 and up, feel more comfortable reading in public. Each virtual session is on the last Tuesday of the month, from 4-5 p.m. The session is divided into four sections so each child has 10 to 15 minutes to read a book of his or her choice to Chubba.
“Some children are so shy about reading aloud, they can be anxious, and they find it easier to read to Chubba, who is totally non-judgmental,” library director Elizabeth Hobson said. “Reading to Chubba reduces the stress and it’s also fun. It helps the teachers as well, as they can see how each child’s reading is progressing.”
Forbes — and Chubba, too — was pleased with an invitation from Hobson to offer the program. They had one on-site session of a similar nature at the Hastings Public Library in early spring before the pandemic brought everything to a halt.
Three years ago, Chubba was homeless, wandering the streets and beaches of Puerto Rico.
“After losing my last dog, Sadie, who was 15 and a wonderful pit bull, I reached out to NY Bully Crew, a fabulous organization,” Forbes recalled. “That would have been in 2017. I knew I wanted to adopt a pit bull, as they are the hardest to place. I had to go through extensive interviews and send photos showing where the dog would live.
“They reached out a short time later and said, ‘We have a dog for you. She’s perfect, but she’s in Puerto Rico,’” Forbes continued. “The video they sent showed a real couch potato, not a dog who would go after other dogs. It showed her walking through an enclosed area, not paying any attention to the chickens that were in a nearby pen. When she arrived here, she jumped immediately into our car — and into our hearts.”
Chubba arrived with the name Brunhilda but was renamed, by Forbes’ granddaughter, in deference to the dog’s distinctive physique. The original idea was for Chubba to sit in on Forbes’ sessions with private clients.
“I had been impressed, even inspired, with the work done by my friend Avril Dennis and her therapy dog, Blondie. I also saw what a therapy dog team could do at the Bronx VA [medical center] where I worked. I saw how Blip and his handler, Barbara, helped the veterans,” Forbes said. “I felt that if my own patients were feeling anxious, Chubba could help them, too. She could calm them down.”
Dennis and therapy dog Blondie were on the staff of The Children’s Village (CV) in Dobbs Ferry. Barbara Jenkel of Chappaqua was a longtime volunteer at ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities) that, at one time, had its training center at CV. Both Blondie and Blip were trained by ECAD.
Chubba’s mellow temperament led her trainers to believe she would be a natural therapy dog who would work well with children, so Forbes had Chubba R.E.A.D. certified. Forbes still intends to have Chubba work in her own practice post Covid-19, when she can again meet with clients in person. As a therapist, Forbes believes that the use of dogs, and other animals, who offer unconditional love, will only expand.
There has already been one “Paws for Reading with Chubba” session, and Hobson considers it a success.
“We had four openings available and three children participated. Our programs normally have a 75 percent participation, so this number fit right in,” Hobson said. “We are just so happy that Chubba is coming to us, even if it is only virtually — for now.”
To sign up for “Paws for Reading with Chubba,” call (914) 693-6614 or email email@example.com to reserve a time slot and to receive the Zoom meeting link. Please indicate you are registering for this program in the email.