A police K-9 with the Dowagiac Police Department recently comforted students returning to class at Michigan State University nearly a month after a deadly shooting rocked the campus.
Students are just now returning to school after the shooting on February 13 that killed three students and seriously wounded five others, but the impact of the traumatic event is still felt.
“The violence we experienced on our campus impacted students in different ways, and they are working through the trauma in different ways, too. Some students are ready to be back in person — but other students don’t feel comfortable coming back to campus,” said Simone Peinkofer, assistant professor of MSU’s Broad College of Business.
Peinkofer reached out to her brother-in-law, Dowagiac Police Department Deputy Chief Kevin Roman, for ways to help students transition back to normalcy and cope with the traumatic event.
That is where K-9 Officer Tole comes in.
Peinkofer decided to hold a scavenger hunt for her students, along with teachers, police officers, Roman and the department’s retired K-9 Officer Tole.
“I immediately thought about having a K-9 and its handler [to] join and simply hang out with us … [It] would definitely take some of the stress out of my students and [help them] feel safer coming back to the classroom,” Peinkofer said of the idea.
During the scavenger hunt, students were required to take a selfie with Officer Tole.
Roman said the event was a success.
“I knew she was nervous. I told her when I got there I didn’t sleep the night before because I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be,” he said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking but it was really awesome to see that they were super happy that Tole was there but also that they were very appreciative and thankful that we were there, too.”
The deputy chief said that Tole’s presence was a great way to keep students’ mind off the tragedy.
“He is really a good friend once they gave [him] treats,” Roman said. “It’s pretty easy for him to just be there as comfort and support for the kids [so they’re] not reminded of what just happened.”
The deputy chief, who grew up in Lansing, was also personally impacted by the shooting. He said he knew several people at the scene, including his uncle who works in the fire department.
Roman noted that K-9s are a great way to bond with the community.
“It’s a great law enforcement tool for investigations and keeping officers safe, but it’s another way we can strengthen ties with our community,” he said.
Tole, a German Shepherd, joined the department in 2015 as a narcotics dog. Now, Tole is retired and mainly participates in community outreach events.
He is also a calming presence in the office.
“K-9 Tole and the officers of the Dowagiac Police Department want to express their condolences to the victims, victims’ families and those affected by this tragedy,” the department wrote in a Facebook post along with photos of students and Tole.