An eerie silence lingers in the courtroom. Dozens of people are on the edge of their seats like they’re sitting at home, fascinated, and horrified by their favorite crime TV show. But this isn’t a television show, this is real life.
A girl stands, looking nervous, in the stand. Her face pales as she surveys all the people in the room. The judge asks her the same question again, but she doesn’t respond. Then suddenly, the judge gestures to someone to bring something in. Then they see it — the dog.
For a child, a courtroom can be overwhelming. Even adults struggle to take the stand in court to testify in front of a room full of people. So, imagine how scary this would be to a child.
As soon as she entered the room, she froze. Everything inside her refused to take the stand but there was a lot at stake in this trial, and her testimony was crucial. However, nobody could fault a little girl for being so scared. Then, she signaled to Karl.
If you saw Karl, a 65-pound boxer, on the street, you’d most likely light up with joy at the sight of his adorable face. You might pet him and rub his tummy, and then you’d dismiss him as just an ordinary dog. But Karl is far from ordinary.
Karl was a working dog, and his job was to serve and protect. His work with young children was a hit because he was an incredibly laid-back dog. He was floppy enough to make them feel calm but big enough to make them feel protected. Despite this, everyday Karl faced a major difficulty.
Karl was unlike any other canine. He was born deaf, and believe it or not, this would actually serve him well throughout his life. Karl’s hearing impairment had made him unaware of the noises surrounding him.
Despite this everybody loved Karl. He often wore a blue cap and his relatable and goofy appearance put all children at ease… especially the one little girl who needed his help the most. His lack of hearing, however, did pose one problem though.
Training Karl was a little harder than other dogs as a deaf dog needs special instructions. Eye contact is crucial since a command cannot be heard.
Unlike other dogs that can respond to commands and shouting, a lot of effort is needed to capture Karl’s attention fully. But one day Karl wowed all his trainers when he started to do something different.
Karl’s trainer Joanne had spent months attempting to teach Karl signing, and then one day he finally did! Able to communicate through American Sign Language, people were in awe of this clever dog.
All the trainers were amazed at how quickly he understood the commands signed to him. Now understanding his trainer’s wishes, he had begun to excel. But there was one problem.
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 other 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. But Joanne was determined. Little did she know, Karl was the key to one witness, and indeed, the entire case.
After Joanne taught Karl a simplified version of the sign language, it was easy for kids to learn it and this 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.
But one day, Karl and his blue cap took the courtroom by storm. One girl, who was about to go into the courtroom, turned to Joanne and asked a question that left everyone perplexed.
“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, which left her wary of the world.
And now, she had to speak about it. She would have to go through two depositions and a trial, telling the court full of people about what happened. But Karl did something remarkable for this child. With one signal, he would change her life forever.
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 little girl appeared to be ready after having arduously prepped for her court date, however, she was overwhelmed when it was time for her to take the stand.
The little girl absolutely froze up. How would she be able to speak in front of all these people? But then, remembering something, she quickly signaled to Karl. That was the sign that changed her life forever.
At that moment, Karl rose. Karl’s reassuring presence made her feel calm, his big, muscular build making her feel safe.
“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.
The little girl stood up and took a deep breath, still holding onto Karl. She bravely sat up tall and answered all the crucial questions.
Amazingly, she made it through the entire process without a hitch. All of her prepping came back to her flawlessy. But what was the outcome of this court case?
The little girl testified successfully, thanks to Karl, and as a result, justice was served. The law prevailed and all was right in the world again, and it was all due to one deaf dog. What a victory!
Karl made the world of difference to the little girl, and now she no longer needed to worry about speaking in front of a room full of serious-looking adults! But how exactly did this work?
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. You see, Karl doesn’t only give support to children in need 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,” his proud trainer Joanna shared in a recent interview.
But that’s not all. Karl can even help kids outside of the courtroom.
Instead of leaving children to deal with the aftermath of the court by themselves, the children 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 an incredibly busy dog.
Karl 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.”
He and the rest of the dogs in the K-9th Circuit Program have made a world of difference to little lives on a daily basis.
Through a program called Companions for Courage, Karl was assigned one case after another. Laura Brimmer, a K9th-Circuit program manager, compared 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.”
Beth Crumpler, Assistant State Attorney, explains that they actively 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. According to Beth, therapy animals can be enormously helpful during these sessions.
“Most [children] won’t testify, won’t go through a deposition, if they don’t have a dog beside them,” Karl’s owner and trainer Joanne told the station.
“It makes me feel really good that we can do this and help,” she added. But even for Joanne, a seasoned dog trainer, getting to this point wasn’t easy with Karl.
Before adopting Karl, Joanne already had 3 boxers, all of which became therapy dogs. And she had never trained a deaf dog before.
But once Joanne and Karl had established some sign language commands, the pooch proved to be incredibly sympathetic and well-behaved. And, surprisingly, his disability had actually given him a unique advantage…
While most dogs are easily distracted by the sounds of the courtroom (the bang of the gavel, the whispers among the crowd, the outrage of the lawyers, sobs from people), Karl didn’t have this problem at all.
Instead, he could stay focused on the child on the stand. He is unlike any other canine in his unit. Karl’s hearing impairment made him unaware of the noises surrounding him.
Karl is an inspiration to us all. He proves that there is a way around difficulties and that small gestures can change a person’s life for the better.
Despite his impaired hearing and difficult interactions with humans compared to other dogs, he proved that with a little ingenuity from him and his trainers, he can make many kids get through difficult times. America thanks you, Karl, even though you’ll never know it!