Meet Stella, the French bulldog who counts a growing fan club of young readers at a neighborhood library.
Stella is part of a new program at St. Agnes Library on Amsterdam Avenue near West 81st Street that encourages early readers — both those struggling with reading and kids who might turn to screen time instead — by having them sit and read to her.
Already, "she's got a following," said Stella's owner, local resident Heidi Christensen, who accompanies the dog during the sessions.
Read on for fun facts about Stella.
Christensen and Stella, who already have a packed volunteering schedule with visits to Alzheimer's patients at the Esplanade on West End Avenue, trained for months to get certified in the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program.
Stella passed the exams that tested her demeanor, and Christensen got certified in helping coach kids' reading skills by offering advice like, "I don't know if Stella understands that word" or to slow down so the pup can hear the story better.
Christensen eventually connected with Suzanne Mehler, the new children's librarian at St. Agnes, who was thrilled by the idea. Mehler's position was created because of an increase in library funding citywide.
Stella has hosted a pair of one-hour sessions so far this month, with two more planned for Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, both starting at 3:30 p.m. on the library's lower level. Parents can sign their kids up when they arrive, noted Mehler, who expects a lot of attendees based on the program's popularity so far.
"We have some regulars who say, 'When is the dog coming back again?'" Mehler said.
Janine Scherr, whose son Menachem, 6, just started reading, was excited by the opportunity and brought her son to the program this week.
"He can feel relaxed," she said. "He's always had a good connection with dogs."
During a recent session, Stella looked relaxed throughout the reading — at one point even seeming to momentarily nod off, lulled by the sound of a child's voice or the incessant petting of a younger sibling who curled up next to her to listen.
For another new reader, a 6-year-old boy, Stella helped him calm down and focus, his nanny said.
Typically, the boy has difficulties sitting still, she noted.
In between books, Stella seized the opportunity to lick faces and hands.
"[French bulldogs'] temperament is all about love," Christensen explained. "She connects with the children... She just gives so much."
Fun Facts About Stella
Hobbies: Taking walks, shopping for new outfits, visiting local Alzheimer's patients, hearing kids read stories
Love Life: A boyfriend named Pluto who lives nearby
Dates: At least weekly with Pluto
Favorite Romantic Getaway: Visiting her Hudson Valley home with Pluto
Favorite Local Store: Canine Styles on Broadway
Favorite Local Restaurant: Nice Matin for people-watching at the outdoor café
Winter Wear: A sweater or a coat
Daily Routine: 1 mile jog through Riverside Park to the Hudson River