Daily Star UK
For a child, adult things can be overwhelming. People often struggle to take the stand in court to testify against someone who wronged them. So, imagine how ghastly this feeling would be to a child. One little girl had to take the stand to testify against a man who had wronged her. As soon as she saw him, she was frozen. Everything inside her refused to take the stand. There was a lot at stake in this trial, and her testimony was crucial. But nobody could fault a little girl for being so scared. Until she signed something to her dog.
YouTube/ HooplaHa - Only Good News
Karl was a working dog. But he wasn’t your everyday dog. He is a 5-year-old, 65-pound, white boxer and his job is to serve and protect. No, he is not a police dog. But he was a hero none the less to one little girl. Karl was a special K9-circuit dog who would appear in court through a program called Companions for Courage. Sometimes, children need support when taking the stand. And this is where these special pups come in, providing a much-needed sense of calm and protection during trial proceedings. But Karl had an advantage over the rest of his unit.
Court House Dogs
Karl was born deaf. In fact, his condition almost cut his life short. His breeders had no use for him and were about to put him to sleep -- until Joanne Hart-Rittenhouse was called to rescue him. Now his deafness serves him well. He is unlike any other canine in his unit. The other dogs had to undergo training to not react to the sounds of the courtroom. The banging gavel, sobs from people and general buzz can set a dog off. But luckily, Karl’s hearing impairment made him unaware of the noises surrounding him. But this also affected his job.
Bay 9 News
Karl is an incredibly laid-back dog, which made him a hit with all the kids. He was big enough to make them feel protected. Lauren Brimmer, a K9th-Circuit program manager, compares him to bikers. “As soon as the kids realize the biker is there for them, they want the biggest one they can find,” she said. “And I think it’s the same with the dog.” To boot, Karl would wear a blue cap to court every day. This gave him a relatable, goofy appearance that put children at ease. Especially one little girl who Karl helped. But his hearing did pose one problem.
Since Karl could not hear, training him was a little harder than other dogs. Before adopting Karl, Joanne already had 3 boxers, all of whom became therapy dogs. But she had never trained a deaf dog before. A deaf dog needs special instruction. Since they cannot hear a command, eye contact is crucial. And this posed a problem. Imagine trying to train an excitable puppy that cannot hear you. Instead of just shouting ‘Heal!’ when they run amok, you need to catch their full attention. Joanne had to think outside the box if she ever hoped to get this dog trained.
Even though Karl could not hear, he successfully learned to understand signing. Karl was trained to communicate via American Sign Language. With the help of a behaviorist friend, the lessons began. “So he learned 10 signs, and then he learned 10 more,” she said. “Now he’s up over 100 signs.” This just goes to show how absolutely intelligent he was. Karl amazed all the trainers as he quickly took to commands signed to him. Since he could now understand his trainer’s wishes, he began to excel. He really was turning out to be a magnificent candidate. His new-found communication would change a little girls life.
Companions of Courage
There are things no child should ever go through, but sadly they do. “She knew the gentleman who had wronged her was going to be in that courtroom, and she really had a fear to go in front of him and tell him what he did to her” Joanne explained. Thankfully Karl was there to help the sad things seem not so bad. But still, as he first started the K-9 job, there were a couple of issues.
Bay 9 News
An issue presented by Karl’s communication system came up when interacting with children. Unless they or someone in their lives is deaf, most children do not know American Sign Language. And, unlike the other courtroom dogs who could be controlled by voice command, Karl needed signs. Therefore, little kids had to learn the hand signals to summon and control Karl. Jittery nerves and a whole new language don’t often go too well together. This soon became apparent. Children loved Karl but could not communicate. But Joanne was determined to make Karl the best courtroom dog in Florida. So she had a clever idea.
Deaf Dogs Rock
Joanne created a simple hand signal routine and taught it to Karl. This simplified sign language was easy for kids to learn and would help them and Karl communicate. On top of that, it made them feel like they had a special, secret code that only they and Karl could understand. Soon, Karl and his blue cap took the courtroom by storm and became a well-known presence in the Ninth Circuit Court of Florida. And he was the hero who saved the day when it came to one particular little girl. One little girl whom Karl would come to help immensely.
Companions of Courage
Beth Crumpler, Assistant State Attorney, explains how they encourage the use of therapy and companion animals in their criminal law cases. Especially for younger victims which offers the child an anchor to hold on to when they have to go in and testify. One girl, who was about to go in the courtroom turned to Joanne and asked a question that left everyone perplexed.
Ninth Circuit Court of Florida
“Is Karl going to protect me?” The little girl asked Joanne. Karl’s ability to calm and comfort enthralled this little girl. She took to Karl like a duck to water. She was undergoing a difficult case, to say the least. In her past, a man had wronged her severely. This left her wary of the world. And now, she had to do something incredibly difficult. She would have to go through two depositions and a trial, telling the court about what the man did to her while he sat feet away from her. But Karl did something remarkable for this child. With one sign, he would change her life forever.
YouTube/ Associated Press
Karl sat with the little girl through all the prep sessions and the depositions. He gave her the courage to speak even when she was scared. But that was the easy part. Soon she would have to go to trial. And as soon as she entered the courtroom, she became overwhelmed. When it came time to take the stand, the worst happened. The child absolutely froze up. She had no idea how she would be able to face that awful man once more. But then she remembered something. Quickly, she signed Karl. And that sign would change her life forever.
Deaf Dogs Rock
At that moment, Karl rose to the girl. She had signed for him to come sit by her. Karl’s presence made her feel calm. His big, muscular build made her feel protected. “Because she couldn’t really reach down to pet him, she kicked her shoes off and ran her toes through his fur and knew that he was there if she needed him,” said Joanne. And with Karl’s support, the child began to testify. Amazingly, she made it through the entire process without a hitch. All of her prepping came back to her. But what was the outcome of this court case?
Thanks to Karl, the little girl was able to testify successfully. In the end, her testimony was the key to the case and to get the man convicted. As a result of this, the man was locked up, never to hurt her again! What a victory, and it was all thanks to one deaf dog. Karl had made the world of difference to the little girl. Now she no longer needed to worry about that man. Her little life was free from trouble. And all it took was the confidence one soppy pup gave her. Then Karl’s story grew quickly.
The story of Karl has been seen by millions. From social media posts to actual news coverage, Karl has made his mark on society. He has become a sort of local celebrity, which has helped raise awareness for the programs he is involved with -- especially Companions for Courage. As a result, the program has received a lot of attention. The trainers of these silent courtroom heroes are thankful for Karl’s exposure. Now more children know they have the support of a warm fluffy protector within the witness stand. And, after the entire ordeal is over, Karl continues to support these vulnerable children.
Karl doesn’t only give support in the courtroom. After the trial, he does not just disappear from a child’s life. “We’ll be there as long as the child wants Karl to stay in their life. He’s helped a lot of children,” trainer Joanne shared in a recent interview. Instead of leaving children to deal with the aftermath of court by themselves, they can have scheduled visits with Karl to help them transition out of the process. And it’s not just children he comforts. His soothing presence helps maintain a relaxed atmosphere in otherwise tense courtroom environments. Joanne couldn’t be prouder.
All the while, Karl simply carries on. Unbeknownst to him, he is a hero for so many children. And he continues to serve and protect. Thanks to Karl, a number of kids will never have to worry again. This unknowing hero just soldiers on, day after day. But he is a busy dog. He also visits libraries to read to children, spends time at a hospice center, and even has his own coloring book that talks about taking care of animals. “Karl’s a great courtroom dog because he tells no secrets,” says Joanne. “He is a hero, no two ways about it.”