Angela McGregor, Venice Current / SMDP Staff Writer

Almost 100 community members stood in front of a photo of Togo Sunday and lit candles at sunset in honor the dog who lost his life in an early morning blaze believed to have been started by homeless individuals.

The vigil was held on Venice Beach by friends of Togo and his owner Dr. Courtney Gillenwater.

During the vigil – friends of Togo described the 80-pound, eight-month-old husky mix as, “the kind of dog who considered you a member of his pack the moment he met you.” Gillenwater described Togo as “a talker” — smart, funny and a fantastic running companion.

During the early morning hours of April 21, Togo died after being tied to his front porch by an alleged arsonist who then set his home ablaze, according to Gillenwater.

Dr. Gillenwater said that she wanted to remember the good that came out of the terrible night, specifically the neighbors who tried to come to her dog’s aid banging through windows and doors at 3 a.m. on behalf of a woman they hardly knew. As a first responder, Gillenwater she said she was used to helping others, not the other way around.

Gillenwater told the crowd on Sunday that the love and support of her neighbors have shown her the powerful way that “everyone can come together when there’s something to do”.

She hopes that Togo’s death will not be in vain. A website set up in his memory (https://www.togolighttheway.com/) states:

“Togo is our unsung HERO to bringing reform to Venice. Born during the Pandemic, he saved us not knowing we needed saving… We are determined to give meaning to this senseless loss and bring attention to the violence in Venice that has terrorized both our housed and unhoused neighbors. We want to call out our absent politicians who ignore the cries of the community. We demand action, we demand change.”

After the candlelight vigil, the Gillenwaters friends reiterated their frustration with Councilman Bonin’s failure to reach out to the community [or Gillenwater].

To date, the only public statement he has made was on April 22, when Bonin insisted via Twitter that the Los Angeles Fire Department had determined that there was “no evidence” that the person who started the fire “was homeless”.

Despite Bonin’s implication that the crime has been solved [which some have understood to mean that arson was not involved], the investigation is ongoing by LAFD’s Arson and Counter-Terrorism Section. Recently, Gillenwater told the press that she believes her dog was likely targeted by drug abusers who would gather by a dumpster near her home and become angry when Togo barked at them.

Just before Togo’s death, the city removed a dumpster at Gillenwater’s behest. Neighbors at the vigil said they’d seen a group of homeless running from her home just after the fire broke out.

As reported in the Venice Current, Bonin’s office was offered 20 shared beds for unhoused persons living in encampments near Westminster Elementary (just a block from the fire) on April 8, but refused them. City officials were warned multiple times of the dangerous conditions in the neighborhood — open drug use, threats of violence, home invasions and arson — were likely to have tragic consequences.

As one neighbor who spoke at the memorial stated, “This could have happened to any of us.”

Midnight Runners set up a GoFundMe page (https://gofund.me/ed0ac97) in Togo’s memory that has raised over $20,000, much of which Dr. Gillenwater stated would go to the dog rescue where she’d found the husky mix she “instantly fell in love with.”

Donations can also be made directly via Venmo to @CourtneyGillenwater

This story was published as part of a partnership between the Santa Monica Daily Press and Venice Current.