‘Animal OBE’ for extraordinary virtual therapy dog

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19 February 2021
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‘Max the Miracle Dog’ awarded PDSA Order of Merit for outstanding contribution to society.

An English Springer Spaniel from the Lake District, who has provided support and comfort to thousands of people worldwide as a virtual therapy dog, is being honoured by veterinary charity PDSA for his unwavering service to society.

Thirteen-year-old Max will be awarded the PDSA Order of Merit* – the animal equivalent of the OBE – by PDSA at a special virtual ceremony, today (Friday 19 February), for his outstanding contribution to society. Watch the virtual presentation here www.pdsa.org.uk/meet-max.

Max will be the first ever pet to receive a PDSA Order of Merit since its inception in 2014; all 32 dogs and horses that have received the medal previously have been specifically trained to perform roles in society, including Police Dogs and Horses, Medical Detection Dogs and Search and Rescue Dogs.

The positive and life-altering impact Max has on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide is unprecedented. His popularity as a social media figure not only provides a feel-good factor, but has also supported many people through dark and difficult times, even more so through the pandemic.

Since 2017, Max has met over 10,000 people through personal meet-and-greets, charity walks, public appearances, school visits and book signings and helped to raise nearly £300,000 for a number of charities, including PDSA. 

Commenting on today’s award, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Max has provided a source of huge comfort – not only to his owner Kerry – but to thousands of people across the globe who are facing or have gone through, hard times. He has become a true ambassador for the positive impact that animals have on mental health and wellbeing, which is more important now than ever. PDSA is honoured to recognise Max with the PDSA Order of Merit, for embodying the contribution that animals make to human lives, beyond ordinary companionship.”

Max’s Story

In 2006, Max’s owner, Kerry Irving, was the victim of a road traffic accident, which left the fit, outdoor-loving 46-year-old, with chronic neck and back pain unable to walk. Kerry’s mental health deteriorated as a result and he was diagnosed with severe depression. Two years after the accident, Kerry met Max and the close bond they developed turned his life around and gave him a reason to walk again. Twelve months after the pair met and began their friendship, they took on climbing Ben Nevis – a challenge that proved how far they had come together. 

Kerry – a keen amateur photographer – started to chart the exploits of Max enjoying his walks in the Lake District, on his Facebook page. Followers grew as more people visited the page to enjoy Max’s adventures, prompting Kerry to dedicate the entire page to him, renaming it ‘Max out in the Lakes’.

Kerry received hundreds of requests from Facebook fans to meet Max and Kerry was happy to oblige. To support this, Max trained as a therapy dog with Assistance Dogs UK in 2016, so he was also able to make special visits to schools, hospitals and hospices. Max’s popularity was so great that Kerry began organising walks for charity, enabling  large groups of people to come together and meet him, while also building a support network of ‘Max fans’.  

In 2018, alongside his ‘brother’, Springer Spaniel Paddy, who Kerry added to his family in 2017 Max received the PDSA Commendation. The citation read ‘For providing support in recovery and enriching the lives of many others’, which recognised how the dogs had helped their owner and this valuable community outreach activity.

Max is also the first animal to receive a PDSA Commendation and a PDSA Order of Merit due to his incredible role in promoting the positive contribution animals make to human lives.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Max has been invaluable in providing comfort, hope and support to thousands of social media followers, who were able to join him on his daily walks via Facebook Live. At a time where thousands were anxious about their health, economic security – often in lonely isolation – Max was there.

Award reaction

Max’s owner, Kerry Irving, 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.

 

“We receive daily messages from people all over the world, saying how Max’s adventures make them smile and bring joy to their life. Each has their own personal story. I have met soldiers who served in Afghanistan who say they used to look at Max’s page to remind them of home. I’ve also received messages from NHS staff working on the frontline during the pandemic, who have found moments of peace and escape with Max.

“It is a huge honour for Max to be awarded the PDSA Order of Merit. He is extremely deserving of this award and I am immensely proud of him.”

PDSA Animal Awards Programme

PDSA’s Animal Awards Programme was instituted in 1943 by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin, CBE. She believed that, if animals were recognised for their heroic actions and the vital roles they play in society, it would help to raise their status, ensuring they are better treated. The charity continues this legacy today with the world’s leading Animal Awards Programme.

The programme comprises three major awards: the PDSA Dickin Medal, instituted in 1943, acknowledges outstanding acts of animal gallantry while serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war, worldwide. It is recognised worldwide as the animals’ Victoria Cross.

The PDSA Gold Medal, instituted in 2002, rewards civilian acts of animal bravery or exceptional devotion to duty. It is now widely recognised as the animals’ George Cross.

The PDSA Order of Merit, instituted in 2014, recognises animals who display outstanding devotion above and beyond normal companionship, and animal acts that symbolise their special relationship with humans. It has become recognised as the animals’ OBE.

 

For more information on the Medals and recipients visit www.pdsa.org.uk/Medals.