By Tom Tolen /

After a holiday layoff, the Brighton Area Schools’ Pack of Dogs was back at work today. The team of social-emotional learning dogs established a dozen years ago with a single therapy dog was back for the third time at Oxford Middle School.

Tragedy struck Oxford High School last November 30th, when a troubled, 15-year-old student took a new gun he had received as a present from his parents and opened fire, killing four students and injuring seven other people — six of them students. Since then, the school district has been left in disarray, with severe emotional baggage being carried by students and staff resulting from the traumatic event. After being closed during the month of December - except for the middle school — grades K-8 were scheduled to reopen today for classes.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Brighton Pack of Dogs visited Oxford Middle School on Friday, Dec. 10th, bringing its full complement of 13 dogs, and returned the following Monday, with five of the “social-emotional learning” dogs. They’re called that because, as founder Karen Storey says, they are much more than mere “comfort” dogs — teaching children social skills, giving them emotional release, and indirectly helping them learn. Storey says the Oxford staff was extremely appreciative of the visits by the Brighton contingent. Josh Smokovitz, a middle school special education teacher, told Storey, in his words, “Watching our students love on the dogs, and hearing their joy and innocent laughter while interacting with them, was the most special part of the day.”

The Brighton dogs and their human handlers were back on the scene today helping the students come to grips with their emotions and assisting them in dealing with the additional stress caused by the tragedy. Storey says the dogs were able to keep in shape over the holidays with a plethora of activities. "Many were busy ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, (while) Duncan headed south to Florida (and) a few went up north," she said.

Five out of the “baker’s dozen" Pack of Dogs and their handlers plan to return to Oxford each day this week to assist the school district in any way they can while it deals with the herculean task of returning to normalcy — or at least some semblance of it.