Max sports his award. Photo: PDSA

Max sports his award. Photo: PDSA

A dog whose fell-going adventures have helped support and comfort thousands of people has been awarded the animal equivalent of the OBE.

English springer spaniel Max received the PDSA’s Order of Merit on Friday in a virtual ceremony.

The honour, the first to be made to a pet rather than a trained rescue or working animal, recognises the 13-year-old Cumbrian’s role as a virtual therapy dog.

He and his owner Kerry Irving of Keswick feature regularly on a Facebook page, Max Out in the Lake District.

Their escapades, along with those of fellow spaniels Paddy and Harry, are watched by almost 200,000 regular followers.

Jan McLoughlin, director general of animal charity PDSA, made the online presentation to Max for his contribution to society.

The PDSA said: “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 feelgood 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.”

Max’s owner was the victim of a road traffic accident in 2006, which left the fit, outdoor-loving 46-year-old, with chronic neck and back pain unable to walk.

His mental health deteriorated as a result and he was diagnosed with severe depression. Two years after the accident, Mr Irving 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 ascended Ben Nevis – a challenge that proved how far they had come together.

Mr Irving, a keen amateur photographer, began charting 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.

Max’s owner received hundreds of requests from Facebook fans to meet Max and he was happy to oblige. Max trained as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs Nationwide in 2016, so he was also able to make special visits to schools, hospitals and hospices. Max’s popularity was so great that Mr Irving 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, whom 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 role in promoting the positive contribution animals make to human lives.

The animal charity said, 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, it added.

Ms 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.”

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.”

Founded by Maria Dickin as the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the charity opened its first clinic in east London in 1917. The PDSA provides low-cost and free veterinary care to the sick and injured pets of people in need and promotes responsible pet ownership.

Its 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.

  • The virtual presentation was made by the charity’s director general