We all know how amazing therapy dogs can be with helping people of all ages with difficult and stressful situations. There is a therapy dog for just about any situation imaginable, from seizures to hyperactive disorders. One kind of therapy dog is there to help children feel safe while testifying in a courtroom. Testifying can be such a scary thing, especially for a small child, so the dog is there to comfort them and help them feel safe. Karl is one of these dogs, and he changed one little girl’s life forever…
Adult matters can be frightening for children. When it comes to testifying in court, even adults struggle with it, so imagine how scary it must be for a small child. One little girl had to take the stand in court when a man wronged her.
As soon as she saw the man who wronged her, the little girl froze. Her testimony was crucial to this trial, but no one could blame her for being so afraid. This is where Karl comes into the story. The little girl signed to the dog.
In Comes Karl
A therapy dog, Karl wasn’t your average dog. He is in fact, a 5-year-old, 65-pound, white boxer. He isn’t a police dog, but he’s a hero nonetheless. He is a special K9-circuit dog who is part of a program named Companions for Courage that allows him to appear in court to support children on the stand.
K9th Circuit Program
These special dogs provide a sense of calm and protection while children are testifying in a courtroom. Courts around the US are beginning to recognize the need for trauma-sensitive courts. This Circuit is the first in Florida to combine pet therapy with certified ADA dogs to aid children testifying in courtrooms. Karl, as a therapy dog, had one thing to differentiate him from the rest of his unit that gave him an advantage. But before we get into that, let’s meet some of Karl’s fuzzy friends! They also help children in court and love getting all the pets!
Here we have Bella. She’s a very sweet Doberman Pinscher. She’s loyal and calm and loves giving and getting attention. She was born in February 2011 and is adored by everyone who gets to meet her!
Next, we’ve got Boomer. He’s a Sheltie/Poodle mix and he was a therapy dog for many years before joining the program. He’s a hard-working member of the team – he even assisted in adult education classes that provide information to people who are interested in qualifying their dog for therapy work as volunteers.
Daisy-Mai was registered as a therapy dog in 2011. She’s a pedigree pomeranian and is an active member of the Pet Therapy teams at Arnold Palmer Hospital and Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando. She goes to visit patients at both those facilities to help them feel better. She even received the title of “Advanced Therapy Dog” from the American Kennel Club! It means she has done over 100 Pet Therapy visits.
A rescued American Akita, Kenai had some tough times when he was a puppy. However, he persevered and now he’s a gentle giant who loves everyone. His favorite thing in the world is belly rubs.
Short for Matilda, Tilly’s full name means ‘mighty in battle’. Her name is so fitting because when she was a puppy, she was abandoned and got sick as a result. However, she was rescued and nursed back to health. Now she acts as a hero herself and shares her bravery with others.
Essie was born in 2012 and is a mixed breed who was rescued. She loves everyone she meets, especially while doing her work as a Therapy Dog. Her favorite thing is helping her community through Companions for Courage.
Maverick is a Golden-Doodle who was born in 2014. He loves to run around and play. In his job as a certified Therapy Dog, he goes to visit schools and nursing homes to get all the hugs and pets that he can.
A Golden Retriever and Black Lab mix, Jackson was born in 2008 and loves to swim and play fetch. He is a READ (Reading Education Assistance Dog) dog and he works with children’s reading programs. Riding in the car and going to the beach are some of his favorite things.
Emma was a born Therapy Dog and is a Boxer. Despite the fact that she’s a special-needs dog herself, she doesn’t let that get in her way. She had her first job as a Therapy Dog when she was just four months old. She was assigned to fulfill a hospice patient’s last request. The patient wanted a dog to lay in his arms and give him sweet little puppy kisses. Emma happily did a perfect job and ever since she has been giving love and company to all who need it.
A sweet and gentle boxer, Sophia was rescued in 2015. She’s been a Therapy Dog ever since. She adores her job visiting children and seniors alike. Her favorite thing is getting a nice hug and having a lot of friends to play with.
Blizzard is a Therapy Cat who was the first one to join Companions for Courage! She was brought in by her owners when she was 7 years old when they realized they wouldn’t be able to take care of her anymore. In the fall of 2014, The Animal League took her in and she made a home in their Cat Cottage. After she was adopted, she began working in local schools as part of Humane Education program and she is also a registered Therapy Cat with Pet Partners!
An English Setter with a mischievous but loving personality, Will was found in 2011 on an airplane tarmac in Tennessee with another English Setter. Soon after he was rescued, he became a Therapy Dog and he always gets so excited when he sees his vest since he knows he’s going to visit someone. He loves to cuddle, swim, play games, and hide the other dogs’ toys.
A Labrador Retriever mix and a former Service Dog, Dupont spent a few years working with a deaf person. Now, he’s a Therapy Dog that loves to be petted and visit people. He adores going to the courts to help comfort children when they testify.
In 2013, when Darwin was two years old, he was found on a highway and was taken to a local rescue group to find a new home. Since then, he’s had severe skin issues and surgery on both knees – but thankfully, he’s doing well now. He loves kids, seniors, and everyone in between.
Josie was rescued in 2008 and became a Therapy Dog later that summer. She’s an Australian Shepherd/Lab mix. Together with her owner, she has logged over 2,000 hours of therapy and Josie was “Therapy Dog of the Year” in 2011! She’s sweet and calm, and she knows just how to act when visiting children or the elderly.
When Farley was rescued in 2010, he was a skinny little 6-month-old puppy. Right away, it was clear that he was a special dog. He has such a loving personality – he has never met anyone he didn’t like! Now, let’s get back to Karl and see how he could help the little girl in court.
A Useful Impediment
Karl is, in fact, deaf. He was born that way. Due to this fact, his breeder almost put him down as he had no use for him, but Joanne Hart-Rittenhouse was called in to rescue him. Amazingly enough, now his deafness is a great asset to Karl. It saves him having to train in order to not react to sounds in the courtroom. There are a lot of sounds that can distract a dog in the courtroom that he would need to learn to ignore, like a banging gavel, sobs, and a general buzz. However, due to his deafness, Karl is unaware of all the noises around him, making him more able to focus.
Laid Back Boy
Due to his calm demeanor, Karl was very popular with the kids. His size also made them feel safe and protected as he was so big. A K9th-Circuit program manager by the name of Lauren Brimmer compared Karl to a biker, “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”. In addition, Karl wore a blue cap when he went to court which gave his appearance a more relatable and silly look that helped the children feel calmer. There is one girl that Karl helped the most.
Training Karl was quite the challenge due to his deafness. Joanne had already 3 boxers who were therapy dogs before she adopted Karl. With that, she had never trained a deaf dog. Dogs who cannot hear need a different kind of training as they can’t hear the commands said. This leads to a need in eye contact which can be problematic with an excitable puppy. Shouting is useless when they are running around as it won’t catch their attention at all. In order to train Karl, Joanne had to think in a creative way to figure it out.
Getting Past Obstacles
Joanne successfully taught Karl to follow signing commands. He was trained to communicate with American Sign Language with the help of her behaviorist friend. She said, “So he learned 10 signs, and then he learned 10 more, now he’s up over 100 signs”. This clearly shows just how smart Karl is. He quickly took to commands his trainers signed to him, amazing them all. Karl began to excel now that he understood his trainers’ commands.
Stop And Smell The Roses
While Karl is a special-needs dog, he has overcome his disability and is enjoying his life as a therapy dog. He brings love and happiness to children, seniors, and everyone he comes in contact with. He is a perfect example of why people shouldn’t shy away from dogs with special needs. His inability to hear makes him a great court companion, working to his advantage. He himself doesn’t know he’s a special-needs dog, when he’s outside he loves smelling flowers and looking at birds, reminding us to slow down every now and again. As they say, stop and smell the roses.
A Helping Paw
The therapy dogs in K9th Circuit are there to “help make the sad things seem not so bad”. They’re there to help give the child on the stand the courage to say what they need to and help make the process a little easier.
Unfortunately, there are things that should never happen to a child, but they still do. Explaining the situation, Joanne said, “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”. For this reason, Karl was there to help her feel safer. All the same, as Karl began his job as a K-9, there were some things he had to overcome first.
There was one problem when Karl needed to communicate with the kids. Most of the children Karl worked with did not know sign language. The kids needed to learn the signals that Karl knew in order to be able to communicate with him. This task was not an easy one as the kids were already under stress due to the situation they were in. So, Joanne wanted to help Karl communicate with the kids, which gave her an idea.
As a solution, Joanne came up with a simple hand signal and taught it to Karl. This way the signal would be easy for the kids to learn and enable them to communicate with Karl. Besides, this signal made the kids feel as if they had a secret code with Karl that only they could understand. Karl became more well-known for his courtroom presence in the Ninth Circuit Court of Florida, becoming the hero that saved the day. Especially with one little girl in particular.
The use of therapy and companion animals in criminal law cases is very encouraged, as Assistant State Attorney Beth Crumpler says. Even more so with younger victims who need someone to hold on to when testifying. There was one little girl, who turned to Joanne before going into the courtroom and asked her a question that baffled everyone.
The little girl asked Joanne, “Is Karl going to protect me?”. Karl was able to calm and comfort this little girl, which made her adore him. Her case was a difficult one, to say the least. Because of her past experience when she was wronged by the man on trial, this girl was wary of the world around her. She had to face a scary experience, going through two depositions and a trial as well as telling the court about what the man did to her while he was just feet away from her. Karl did something amazing for her that changed her life.
Throughout all the prep sessions and depositions, Karl sat with the little girl, giving her the courage to speak up even though she was afraid. The trial, however, would be the most difficult part for her. The little girl entered the courtroom and froze. She was too afraid to face that terrible man. But then she remembered that she had Karl, so she quickly signed him.
A Life Saver
Karl responded to the little girl’s sign and came over to sit next to her. He calmed her down with his presence as his big and muscular build made her feel safe. Joanne said, “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”.
With Karl by her side, the little girl began to testify, and amazingly, she made it through the entire thing with no problem. All the prepping had paid off. The one question that remained was: what was the outcome of the case?
A World Of Difference
As one would expect, Karl’s story spread far and wide, reaching millions of people all around the world. Karl has truly made his mark on society, whether his story appeared on social media or the news, everyone adored him. The spreading of his story helped raise awareness for the programs he is a part of, especially Companions for Courage. Due to this, the program also received a lot of attention which is something the trainers are so thankful for. Thanks to all the attention, more children will know they can have the support of a fluffy protector when taking the stand in a courtroom. Even after the whole ordeal is over and done with, Karl continues to help the children.
After the trial is done, Karl continues to support the child for as long as they need, he doesn’t just disappear from their life. “We’ll be there as long as the child wants Karl to stay in their life. He’s helped a lot of children,” Joanne said. The children can schedule visits with Karl to help them transition through the process. Karl doesn’t just help the children themselves, but his presence tends to maintain a relaxed atmosphere when in court.
Karl just carries on with his life, completely unaware that he is a hero to many children he had helped. He keeps on with his important job, ensuring that kids won’t have to worry anymore. With all that said, Karl is a busy dog. He visits libraries to read to kids, he visits a hospice center and even has his very own coloring book that speaks about caring for animals. “Karl’s a great courtroom dog because he tells no secrets,” Joanne said. “He is a hero, no two ways about it.”
Along with Karl, his companion Sophia helped with a deposition this morning in Lake County! Not only do the companions get to help kids in court, but they get to make friends and get all the hugs they can!
Here we have companion Boomer helping out his little buddy with coloring at The Dependency Court. They look like they’re having so much fun!
Working With The Judge
Clearly, everyone loves the Companions for Courage! Here are companions Daisy Mai And Maverick who are working the injunction hearings with Judge Latimore. They all look so happy to be there.
Everyone Needs A Friend
Working the afternoon shift at the Dependency Court in Lake County, companion Dupont is snuggling up to his friend and comforting him like a pro. Who doesn’t want a friend like Dupont?
Working bright and early, companion Darwin is covering Dependency Court in Lake County as his morning shift. He is clearly happy getting petted by his little buddy!
Boomer is one dedicated companion! Here he is working with his child in Sumter County. He looks prepared to face whatever the day will bring him. Of course, all the companions are professional at their jobs so they know what to do.
Making A Difference
Companions Dupont and Essie are excited to help make a difference in their community! Here they are relaxing a little after helping out with trials in Sumter County. Good job guys!
Lots Of Love
One of the best parts about being a Companion for Courage is all the love they get on the job! Here we have companion Dupont getting lots of affection and love from his child.
The Companions for Courage are great at their jobs! Here we have Bella after helping her child at the Lake County Courthouse. She looks so proud of herself!
Companion Karl is so well behaved, he even knows how to sit and wait patiently on a bench! Here he’s waiting for his friend to arrive. He’s helping with a deposition at the courthouse soon and he can’t wait!
The Whole Team
As you can see, the program has grown so much over the years! Now there are more and more programs like this all over the country, helping countless kids testify in court in order to put bad guys away.
The Final Decision
All thanks to Karl, the little girl succeeded in her testimony, which led to the man getting convicted as her testimony was the key to the entire case. The man was locked up as a result, where he wouldn’t be able to hurt her ever again. This victory was all thanks to a deaf dog named Karl. He had made such a difference to the little girl. She won’t need to worry about the man ever again. As it turns out, many people were interested in Karl’s story.