By Michelle Boudin, People
Odd couple Benton the Great Pyrenees and Boone the disabled raccoon are best friends helping each other make it through life with a positive attitude.
The duo lives at Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary in Glendale, Kentucky — a sanctuary dedicated to nursing wild animals back to full health.
“Boone was diagnosed with a rare disorder, cerebral hypoplasia, that makes it very difficult for him to get around,” Mary Key, Nolin River’s founder, tells PEOPLE. “He came to us as a baby, and when it was time for him to start walking, I noticed there was a problem.”
Hoping to help Boone with his walking skills, Key looked up wheelchairs for animals on the internet but found that the nonprofit couldn’t afford the options available. So she reached out to a friend at nearby Central Hardin High to see if the school’s engineering students could help. The engineering teacher, Russ Pike, replied it was the perfect real-world project for his students.
“From the first time they brought Boone to class for the kids to meet him, they were fully on board. It’s pretty neat. Most of the time, you’re trying to get kids involved and engaged. Well, we had to reign them in because they were so excited,” Key says of the enthusiasm for the project.
Over the past few months, Boone regularly visited the high school so the engineering students could measure the raccoon for fittings and make adjustments to their prototypes. After a bit of tinkering, the students came up with a wheelchair — their third prototype — that worked for Boone.
“It’s amazing! The look on Boone’s face when we first put him in it … I was crying. He gets really engaged and gets a very purposeful look, and when he first moved in the chair, you could see him looking like this is different, and this is good,” Key says of Boone’s reaction to the custom creation. “He is absolutely adorable and unbelievably sweet, and now he can get around on his own.”
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