Springer spaniel given 'animal OBE' for helping thousands in virtual therapy

A virtual therapy dog is being honoured with the animal equivalent of an OBE after comforting more than 10,000 people around the world. 

Max, a springer spaniel, was trained up after helping his owner beat depression when a car crash left him unable to walk.

Kerry Irving said 13-year-old Max ‘gave him a reason to live’ as he struggled with his mental health in 2013. He decided three years later to train Max up so he could help more people at schools, hospitals and hospices.

As many struggled with mental health during lockdown, people have found comfort in joining Max on his daily walks in the Lake District on Facebook Live. 

Mr Irving, 46, said: ‘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 front line during the pandemic, who have found moments of peace and escape with Max.’

Today, Max received the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Order of Merit for his ‘unwavering service to society’.

Since 2017, he has met more than 10,000 people during meet-and-greets, charity walks and school visits and has raised almost £300,000 for different charities. 

Mr Irving said: ’Being able to share the support, comfort and joy that Max brings to thousands of people has been a privilege.

‘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 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.’

The Order of Merit is part of the PDSA’s Animal Awards Programme which the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin, believed would help ensure animals were treated better by recognising the roles that they play in society.

The programme awards animals for their service in the armed forces, civilian acts of animal bravery and the Order of Merit for devotion above and beyond normal companionship. 

Max is the first pet to receive an Order of Merit, launched in 2014, as it has previously been given to dogs and horses who were specifically trained to perform roles, including as police dogs, medical detection dogs and search and rescue dogs.

He is also the first to be awarded for promoting the positive contribution animals make to human lives.

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