Dowagiac police K-9 comforts MSU students after February mass shooting

Published 6:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

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DOWAGIAC — A retired law enforcement dog that has made a positive impact locally was recently able to do the same for a community more than 100 miles away reeling from tragedy .

K-9 Tole, a retired dual-purpose working dog with the Dowagiac Police Department, recently traveled to Michigan State University in East Lansing on Feb. 21 to welcome back MSU students and staff on the first day of classes after the Feb. 13 shooting that left three students dead and five seriously injured.

Accompanied by Deputy Chief Kevin Roman, K-9 Tole attended Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management Simone Peinkofer’s class and participated in class projects, comforted students, and posed for selfies with the students. 

Peinkofer, Roman’s sister-in-law, approached Roman about having Tole visit her classroom and as a calming presence for the students on their first day back in class. After getting approval from the police department, Roman and K-9 Tole were Lansing-bound Tuesday, Feb. 21.

“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.”

K-9 Tole retired from working dog duty Oct. 31, 2022 following a six-year career with the department. Since retiring, K-9 Tole has taken on a new role as GoodWill Ambassador at the Police Department. He has been assigned a dog bed, unlimited treats and belly rubs. K-9 Tole, who lives with Roman, has participated in several parades, classroom presentations and community events in Dowagiac. 

“He did great,” Roman said. “He’s our office dog now and what he did up there, helping them cope by being an unbiased dog that only wants love and attention. I didn’t expect anything less from that dog. He’s so cool.”

For Roman, the tragedy at MSU hit close to home. He grew up in the Lansing area and has friends and family members that live near and work at the university. 

“I stayed up listening to the radio traffic at 2 a.m.,” he said. “There were a number of people I knew very well who were involved (on the scene). My uncle was heavily involved in it on the fire department side.Being here two hours away was not easy. Family members I have direct ties with currently were kind of freaking out and asked if I was coming over there.”

While he was not able to be there when the incident was active, Roman was happy to be a part of the healing process for the MSU community.

“Being able to help heal was definitely something I was honored to be able to do and be asked to do,” he said. “I think one of the things that we’re really good at as first responders is getting there and taking care of the situation where the spotlight is in those events but the rebuilding and after-effects is something that’s not shed on much as far as media or really sharing amongst other agencies or any of that. That’s something I think needs to be shifted in another direction but to be able to have a part in that was huge.”