Boone the raccoon was born with cerebral hypoplasia, which made it hard for him to walk until a group of engineering students at Kentucky's Central Hardin High made a wheelchair for the animal

By Michelle Boudin
April 19, 2021 04:07 PM
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Raccoon gets walker
Credit: Courtesy Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary

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.

Raccoon gets walker
Credit: Courtesy Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary

"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."

Now that Boone is free to move on his own, Key says he loves steering his wheelchair into the mud and playing in puddles under the watchful and caring eye of Benton the dog.

Raccoon gets walker
Credit: Courtesy Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary

"He has this relationship with Benton. They love each other. Benton sits beside Boone most of the day, and if he's not sitting right by him, he's keeping an eye on him," Key says of the unlikely friendship between the two animals. "It's super cute. I'll put Boone out in the yard, and Benton puts his paw over him. Boone doesn't have any other animal companions on the ranch, so it's really nice to see him with Benton. It's true love."

Raccoon gets walker
Credit: Courtesy Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary

Key adds that while the goal at the sanctuary is always to release injured animals back into the wild once they've fully recovered, that's not possible with Boone because he depends on his new wheelchair to get around.

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"He couldn't survive like that, but he's pretty happy here. He's neutered, and so he's just so sweet, and he gets more attention than any other animal here from all the volunteers," Key says of life at the sanctuary. "Watching him get around now with the chair ... it's just adorable."