A springer spaniel with a huge social media following has become the first pet to win what has been described as the animal equivalent of an OBE for “providing comfort and support to thousands of people worldwide”.
Max, a therapy dog from Cumbria, in northern England, has been awarded PDSA order of merit, previously only bestowed on service animals, such as those serving in the police.
Max became a social media star after helping his owner, Kerry Irving, recover from a road traffic accident. Unable to walk, Irving developed severe depression. Two years after the crash he met Max, who gave him a reason to walk again on and was soon given the mantle Max the Miracle Dog. Max and Kerry went on to climb Ben Nevis together and Kerry, an amateur photographer, started to post images of Max enjoying his walks on a Facebook page called Max Out In the Lakes - and the miracle dog now has nearly 200,000 followers.
Kerry received hundreds of requests from Facebook fans to meet Max. To best facilitate this, Max trained as a therapy dog with Assistance Dogs UK in 2016. This enabled him to make special visits to people in schools, hospitals and hospices. The spaniel’s popularity was so great that Kerry began organising walks for charity, which enabled large groups of people to meet him, bringing comfort and joy to people stressed out by covid.
Max has now met more than 10,000 people through home and school visits, charity walks and public appearances. He has even helped raise nearly £300,000 ($420,000) for a number of charities.
Kerry said: “When I was at my lowest, Max became my reason to live, and he continues to make me smile every day. Being able to share the support, comfort and joy that Max brings to thousands of people has been a privilege.”