NORTHFIELD, Minn. — It's not like rescue dogs don't come pre-packaged with enough challenges.
“They believe some sort of tumor is growing, pushing on his spine,” Dana Holden says of her Dachshund mix, Leonard.
Dana summons Leonard, who drags his hind legs along the floor to reach her. She rewards his determination with pets, praise and peanuts.
“His leg is just not getting the signals,” Dana says.
While he’s lost some mobility, Leonard is as snuggly and lovable as ever.
Leonard's charms were on full display in the screen saver picture on Dana’s laptop, which she uses in her job as a fifth-grade teacher.
“When I would project it for the class, they just throught he was really funny,” Dana says. “They just love him. They loved hearing stories about Leonard.”
It was a only a matter of time until 9-year-old Leonard came to meet Dana’s 11-year-old students.
“They were so excited,” Dana says. “Lenny the celebrity.”
It was during that school visit that Leonard’s legs caught the eye of one particular boy.
His name was Emmett Rychner.
He may be familiar to you.
Eight years ago, then-3-year-old Emmett formed a friendship with his next-door neighbor, WWII veteran Erling Kindem.
Emmett and Erling became a viral video sensation.
A series of stories about the pair that aired on KARE 11 and NBC Nightly News were shared on social media millions of times.
Last spring, at age 11, Emmett watched Leonard struggling to move.
Emmett’s wheels started turning.
“And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to make a wheelchair for that dog, and the entire class agreed.”
Emmett was, after all, the class problem-solver.
Need a drinking fountain for a dog? Emmett has invented one.
How about an air-conditioned backpack to keep your lunch fresh? Emmett designed one of those too.
But creating a wheelchair for Leonard would prove to be Emmett’s greatest challenge.
Over the next few months, Emmett did not lose sight of his goal.
His teacher took notice.
“I mean, a lot of kids will say that they can do something, but to actually have that follow-through and persistence,” Dana says is something she doesn’t often see in her fifth graders.
“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,” Emmett’s former teacher continued.
For Emmett, losing interest was out of the question.
“He was just the sweetest dog ever and I thought I’ve got to do something to help him,” Emmett says.
Emmett's first design was a bust. A trial run with Leonard in front of Emmett’s classmates ended in disappointment.
“It was not big enough, it was not long enough, his legs couldn't slide all the way down into it,” Emmett says.
“He looked sad at first, I was worried,” Emmett’s mother, Anika Rychner said.
Emmett’s father, Bryan Rychner, says the let-down his son felt was fleeting. “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 a second design.
Learning from his previous mistakes, Emmett built a sturdier wheelchair, with bigger wheels. He even added front and rear lights for walks at night.
Dana carried Leonard down the steps of Emmett’s home to his basement workshop.
Together teacher and student, placed the friendly Dachshund into the chair’s sling.
They tightened the seatbelts.
Dana took a few steps back and called for Leonard to come.
Effortlessly, he did.
With Leonard’s hind legs suspended above the wheels and pulled by his front legs, Leonard moved easily around the room.
“Lenny, oh my goodness,” said Emmett, smiling broadly.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “I just love finally seeing him walk.”
And yes, there are companies that make dog wheelchairs, in fact, one recommended by Leonard's vet.
Dana smiled, recalling the conversation. “I said, ‘Nah, I've got somebody I know.”
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