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Fifth grader builds wheelchair for his teacher's dog: 'I just love finally seeing him walk'

'He was just the sweetest dog ever and I thought I’ve got to do something to help him.'

Fifth grader builds wheelchair for his teacher's dog: 'I just love finally seeing him walk'
Cover Image Source: YouTube/KARE 11

Leonard, a Daschund-mix 9-year-old dog, is an absolute joy for teacher Dana Holden's students. Leonard is very playful but has a tumor pushing on his spine that prevents him from fully using his hind legs, hindering his walking abilities. Holden teaches fifth grade and her students enjoy watching Lenny play, reports KARE 11. “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.”

During a school visit for Lenny, the pup caught the eye of a specific student, Emmett Rychner. The 11-year-old became an internet sensation when eight years ago, he formed an endearing friendship with WWII veteran Erling Kindem, his next-door neighbor.



Emmett felt something when he met Leonard and saw his difficulty in walking. After all, he was the class problem solver, having devised a dog drinking fountain and an air-conditioned rucksack to keep your lunch warm. Now Emmett's greatest task would be making a wheelchair for Leonard. His teacher noticed. “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.’” 


Emmett was prepared for Leonard to try a different design a few weeks before the start of the new academic year. He created a more durable wheelchair with larger wheels after learning from his earlier missteps and even added front and rear lights for nighttime strolls. Dana escorted Leonard down Emmett's steps to his basement workshop. The cheerful Dachshund was slung into the chair by the teacher and student together. As soon as they placed him there, pulling himself around the room on his front legs while having his back legs hanging above the wheels, Leonard was able to move with ease. Emmett smiled broadly as he played with the dog, extremely happy to see the pup running around with the aid of the new wheelchair! “It feels amazing,” he said. “I just love finally seeing him walk.”



Emmett has always been a very kind boy. In 2014, when Emmett formed an unlikely friendship with then 89-year-old Erling Kindem, Emmett's mom had told KARE 11, "They kind of bonded over the tomatoes in his garden, because Emmett loves tomatoes." Their friendship was a sight for many people, with their races becoming a common sight for their neighbors. Erling would ride his John Deere garden tractor and Emmett on his battery-operated toy riding tractor. Even after the boy's family had to move and Erling moved to a senior center, the two kept their friendship intact, visiting for birthdays, play dates, and other important events.

Sadly, in 2016, Erling passed at the senior care facility in Farmington at the age of 91. His son, Charlie Kindem, told ABC that Emmett had visited Erling 2 days before he passed, adding that "Emmett read the Lord's Prayer to him."

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