By Tom Tolen /

A locally organized GoFundMe campaign to collect $50,000 to provide the Oxford Community School District with therapy dogs has gone over the top, with over $56,600 having been pledged as of 6 p.m. Wed.

However, Maria Gistinger, a former assistant superintendent for business and finance in the Brighton Area Schools who started the GoFundMe effort, says it will continue for the time being and the extra money will be put to good use. “(Oxford) may purchase another dog, or they may use the extra for vet bills,” Gistinger said. The $50,000 that was the original goal is enough to purchase and train five therapy dogs at $10,000 apiece.

Brighton Area Schools Pack of Dogs founder Karen Storey and several of the dogs went to Oxford nine times in a six-week period to de-stress and comfort Oxford middle and high school students in the wake of a tragedy in which four students were shot and killed and six others were injured by a fellow student. The alleged shooter, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, is charged with 24 counts, including first-degree murder, terrorism and an assortment of other charges. He is being held in the Oakland County Jail pending a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is psychologically and mentally fit to undergo a rigorous trial.

The fundraiser was given a substantial boost last week when the parents of Brendan Santo, whose body was found in the Red Cedar River in East Lansing, donated $10,000 in honor of their son who, they stated, "loved dogs." Santo’s body was found on Jan. 21st with the medical examiner determining that no foul play was involved in the death, which is believed to have been accidental. Storey says that due to the generous gift from the Santo family, they will be allowed naming rights to the therapy dog.

The Brighton Pack of Dogs program now has a total of 14 dogs — one for each school in the Brighton Area School District, plus a couple of extra ones for 2,000-student Brighton High School and a “roving" dog who goes where he is needed on any given day.

Last Tuesday, Storey, accompanied by Gistinger, gave a presentation to the Oxford Community Schools’ Board of Education in which she explained the purpose of Brighton's Pack of Dogs program and its benefits to the students. The Brighton Pack of Dogs are called social-emotional learning dogs, Storey explaining that they are therapy dogs and much more.

In addition, two of the Brighton Pack of Dogs went to Howell High School, accompanied by their handlers, last week to comfort students who lost two classmates the previous weekend when a pickup truck and a car collided at Hacker and McClements roads in Genoa Township. Two other Howell High School students were injured in the accident.

Storey said at the time that she has been overwhelmed by “how gracious everyone has been" to the dogs and their handlers, "through turmoil and tragedy." One of the Brighton Pack of Dogs team members — a mini golden doodle named Oscar - is on loan from Brighton to the Oxford Schools until the end of the school year. Volunteer Oxford staffers take him home after school and on weekends and otherwise care for the dog. Brighton's Pack of Dogs are unusual in that they are actually owned by the Brighton Area Schools, and yet at the same time are funded independent of the school district’s budget, with their purchase and all expenses paid for via private donations.

Those who would still like to donate through the GoFundMe program toward the purchase of five or more therapy dogs for the Oxford Schools may do so by going to: