Teresa Pelham planned to give the students signed copies of her book, Roxy's Forever Home, based on her family's true story about adopting a "little brown dog" named Roxy who Emily's Friends Dog Rescue found abandoned with her mother and siblings in Tennessee.
But the Sandy Hook school librarian canceled and the visit fell through.
“As it turned out, reality kind of hit that they’d loss too much instructional time," Pelham said. "And they had received so much, so many gifts from all over the place, that it just wasn’t making sense anymore."
Pelham's friends had sent checks to her to fund giving the books to the children and she had the signed copies sitting around her house.
So, not wanting the books to go to waste, Pelham decided to donate them to María C. Colón Sánchez Elementary School, a public school in Hartford. She visited the school on Friday, Jan. 10, giving 359 books to children in first to fourth grade there. Of those, 180 were paid for through donations and Pelham donated the rest.
"They were psyched," she said.
Pelham typically schedules author visits at schools with a significant free and reduced lunch population, like the Sanchez school, which she said is unfortunately not hard to find in Connecticut. The school wanted to schedule her around Three King's Day, so she made her visit that week.
Through talking to the children about her book and introducing them to Roxy, a trained therapy dog, she teaches them about the importance of rescuing dogs and, although they may not realize it, about writing. Some kids she meets tell her that their new Roxy's Forever Home book is the only book they own.
She estimates that tens of thousands of people have pet Roxy.
“I’ll go places in public with her and kids will recognize her," Pelham said.
Fundraising for Dog RescuesPelham has raised about $10,000 from the proceeds of her self-published book to benefit rescue organizations and the cost of caring for the dogs.
"It's been a big hit in schools," Pelham said.
Jan Borreil, the Farmington woman who fostered Roxy, 3, before Pelham adopted her and who is the owner of Emily's Friends in Farmington, accompanied her Friday. Pelham contributed most of the money raised to Emily's Friends.
"Jan likes to come with me to these author visits because she gets to see how the school outreach is very effective with kids," Pelham said. “I talk to them about how important it is to rescue a dog versus buy a dog from the pet store."
Melissa Adams, a volunteer for Emily's Friends in Tennessee who found Roxy, is also now friends with Pelham.
In her presentations, Pelham has highlighted two trips she made to Tennessee, including one to retrieve eight basset hound puppies that Adams wanted to foster out. Six of them have found homes in Farmington. The puppies' mother, Bernadette was raised by a homeless man in Tennessee and was treated for heartworm using a portion of the donations from Pelham's books.
“A dog like her doesn’t have any chance at all down south of surviving," Pelham said, adding that Bernadette was "like the hottest commodity going" when it came to finding her a home.
Sharing Roxy's Story: Pelham's Calling
The story of how Teresa Pelham and her three children fell in love with a 5-month-old rescue dog from Tennessee and adopted her is a familiar one many people have told about why they decided to take in a rescue for the first time.
”My kids and I all fell in love with her…My kids sort of knew what was going on," Pelham said. "She’s something special.”But Pelham's way of telling her story is unique and it's a story she's not done telling.
Pelham — who is also known for writing freelance columns for the Hartford Courant on parenting and blogging on the newspaper's website, as well as writing freelance features for Seasons Magazine — never envisioned that her first book would be about a dog. But she seems to have found a niche for herself.
"It's like my calling," she said. "You go into a school for 45 minutes and you’re like a rock star."
The Sequel: Meet Roxy's Brother, Stuey
She is working on a sequel from Roxy's perspective that also features her other little brown rescue dog, Stuey, 2. The book will be called, Roxy and Her Annoying Little Brother, Stuey.
"Roxy is kind of mellow and important and Stuey is just crazy," she said.
Emily's Friends also rescued Stuey, finding him alone in a ditch.
"He was all wet and freezing," Pelham told Patch on the phone last week. "He’s now sitting on my lap all warm."Artist Dina Marie Pratt, a dog portrait artist from East Berlin, CT, illustrated the first book, but Pelham's son, Carter, 12, is doing the art for the sequel. He's nearly finished, Pelham said.
Pelham has also published another book called Heroes outside of the series. Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, having read her book about Roxy, hired her to write a dog for children in second to sixth grade. The main character in the story is a little boy whose mother loses her vision from a war injury and needs a guide dog.
People can purchase Pelham's books on the Roxy's Forever Home website or send her a check either for themselves or to donate to schools when she does author visits.
Her most gratifying visits have been sponsored ones. Companies like People’s Bank, Northstar Wealth Management in West Hartford and Metayer Bonding in Avon have sponsored author visits in the past and get to see the difference they're making. She welcomes companies to sponsor visits to future schools.
For more information on Pelham, her book and Roxy's story, you can visit roxysforeverhome.com.