Fifth-grader builds a wheelchair for his teacher’s dog: “It’s so great to see him walk!”

“He was the sweetest dog I’ve ever seen, and I knew I had to do something to help him.”

Leonard, a 9-year-old dog who is a mix of a Daschund and a terrier, makes all of teacher Dana Holden’s students happy. Leonard likes to play, but a tumor on his spine makes it hard for him to fully use his back legs, which makes it hard for him to walk. KARE 11 says that Holden teaches fifth grade, and her students like to watch Lenny play.  “When I would project it for the class, they just thought he was really funny,” Dana says. “They just love him. They loved hearing stories about Leonard.”

When Lenny went to school, he caught the eye of one student, Emmett Rychner. When the 11-year-old made a sweet friendship with his next-door neighbor, a WWII veteran, eight years ago, it went viral on the internet.

When Emmett met Leonard and saw how hard it was for him to walk, he felt something. After all, he was the class problem-solver. He made a drinking fountain for dogs and a rucksack with air conditioning to keep your lunch warm. Now, the most important thing for Emmett to do is make a wheelchair for Leonard. His teacher paid attention. Dana says, “I mean, a lot of kids will say that they can do something, but to actually have that follow-through and persistence,” Dana says. “I think he has just an empathy, and whether that’s from Elring, or just who he is, he’s got that in him already.”

“He was just the sweetest dog ever and I thought I’ve got to do something to help him,” Emmett says. The initial concept that Emmett designed was a flop. A practice run with Leonard in front of Emmett’s classmates ended in failure. Emmett explains, “It wasn’t big enough, it wasn’t long enough, and his legs couldn’t slide all the way down into it.” But Emmett did not lose hope. “He looked sad at first, I was worried,” Emmett’s mother, Anika Rychner said. Emmett’s father, Bryan Rychner, however, explained that the sadness did not last long. “Then it was home, ‘I’m going to do this and make it better.’” 

A few weeks before the start of the new school year, Emmett was ready for Leonard to try something different. After making some mistakes, he made a stronger wheelchair with bigger wheels and added front and back lights so it could be used at night. Dana led Leonard down Emmett’s stairs to his workshop in the basement. Together, the teacher and the student threw the happy Dachshund into the chair. Leonard was able to move around the room easily as soon as they put him there. He used his front legs to pull himself around while his back legs hung over the wheels. Emmett was very happy to see the dog running around with the help of the new wheelchair as he played with the dog. He said, “It feels amazing,” he said. “I just love finally seeing him walk.”

Emmett was always a very nice kid. In 2014, when Emmett became friends with Erling Kindem, who was then 89 years old, Emmett’s mom told KARE 11: “They kind of bonded over the tomatoes in his garden, because Emmett loves tomatoes.”  Many people saw them hanging out together, and their neighbors got used to seeing people of different races. Erling would ride his John Deere garden tractor, and Emmett would ride his toy riding tractor that was powered by a battery. Even though the boy’s family had to move and Erling moved to a senior center, they stayed friends and saw each other for birthdays, play dates, and other important events.

Erling died in 2016 at the senior care center in Farmington. He was 91 years old. His son, Charlie Kindem, told ABC that Emmett had visited Erling two days before he died and that “Emmett read the Lord’s Prayer to him.”