By Tom Tolen /

Two sisters who attend Spencer Elementary School have been announced as the winners of the Brighton Area Schools’ “Love Your Pet Day” promotion.

Over 100 students “from Tot Spot to 8th grade” participated in the contest, in which the winner will get to spend a class day with Buckley, one of the school district’s “Pack of Dogs”.

The winners were announced Tuesday by Karen Storey, a Brighton special education teacher who founded and directs the district’s much-emulated Pack of Dogs program. The contest took place in conjunction with the national “Love Your Pet Day” promotion, which was held last weekend. The school contest was based on students submitting a photo of themselves with their dog, the panel basing its selection of the winner on the best photo.

The winners of the contest are Zoe and Piper Kluck, the daughters of Mike and Tina Kluck. Zoe is a 4th grader whose classroom teacher is Ms. Rucinski, while Piper is a kindergartner taught by Ms. Andrews. Initially, there was going to be just one contest winner, but Storey told WHMI the girls were pictured together with their dog, Marla, and it was decided to award the prize to both of them.

This Friday, the girls will be presented with their prizes, and each girl will get Buckley in her classroom for half a day. For their prizes, each girl will receive a stuffed yellow lab, a sticker and a canvas photo of the Pack of Dogs. Storey says Chevy, the district-wide dog in the program, will also pay the class a visit.

Storey says the purpose of the contest — and one per month to be held in the future — was to have the classroom day be as normal as possible in a very difficult year for the students due to the pandemic. She says, in her words, “We want to see our students engaged and smiling, and this was a safe, virtual thing we could do.”

Brighton is the first district in the state to have “therapy” dogs in all of its schools and, as far as is known, is the only school district in the nation to own the dogs, which the district more appropriately calls “social-emotional-learning” dogs. Although many other school districts have therapy dogs, they are owned by private individuals. In Brighton’s case, the specially trained dogs were purchased — at a price tag of about $8,000 each — through private donations, which also cover the costs of veterinary care, grooming and food. When not in school the dogs are cared for, and quickly become family members, at the homes of volunteer staffers.