By Tom Tolen /

The GoFundMe drive to purchase five therapy dogs for the Oxford Community School District is closer to reaching its goal after a generous donation in memory of a Rochester Hills student.

The parents of Brendan Santo, whose body was found in the Red Cedar River in East Lansing, are donating $10,000, as they stated on the GoFundMe page, "in honor of our son, Brendan Santo, who loved dogs.” Santo’s body was found on Jan. 21st by a private investigator who then reported it to Michigan State University campus police. The medical examiner determined that no foul play was involved in Santo’s death and it is believed to have been an accidental death.

Former Brighton Area Schools assistant superintendent for business and finance Maria Gistinger, who started the GoFundMe fund drive for the therapy dogs, says that she is “grateful for the donation from the Santo family, especially in light of the tragic death of their son.”

As a result of a $2,500 donation that came in Tuesday evening, coupled with the $10,000 donation, the GoFundMe drive is now at nearly $40,000, a mere $10,000 away from the $50,000 goal. Karen Storey, who founded Brighton’s Pack of Dogs therapy dog program, says that due to the generous gift from the Santo family, they will be allowed the 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 Brighton High School and a general assignment dog who goes where he is needed on any given day.

Tuesday evening, Storey, accompanied by Gistinger, gave a presentation to the Oxford Community Schools’ Board of Education in which she explained why Brighton has a Pack of Dogs program and its benefits. Storey also brought along Chevy and Oscar - two of the Brighton social-emotional learning dogs, as they are called.

Storey tells WHMI, “The Oxford Board was complimentary and thanked us for making the dogs available.” She says she and some of the dogs have gone to Oxford nine times in the last six weeks on a rotating basis to comfort and console the Oxford middle and high school students in the wake of the 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.

In a related story, two of the Brighton Pack of Dogs - Buckley and Scout - accompanied their handlers to Howell High School on Monday and Tuesday - and were to be back again today to comfort and assuage the anxieties of students who lost two classmates last 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 says the therapy dogs and their handlers will continue going to Howell High School for at least the rest of the week.

Storey says she has been overwhelmed by “how gracious everyone has been to (the Pack of Dogs volunteers), even through turmoil and tragedy.” One of the Brighton Pack of Dogs team members — a mini golden doodle named Oscar - will be on loan to the Oxford Schools until the end of the school year. Several Oxford staffers have volunteered to take him home with them after school and on weekends, and to otherwise care for the dog.

Top photo - Brendan Santo
Middle Photo - BAS therapy dog in Howell
Bottom photo - BAS therapy dog at Oxford School Board meeting