A spaniel who provided virtual therapy to people across the world during the pandemic is being awarded the animal equivalent of an OBE.
Max, a 13-year-old English springer spaniel and social media star from the Lake District, will be awarded the Order of Merit by veterinary charity PDSA for his outstanding contribution to society at a virtual ceremony on Friday.
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. ”
Max’s owner Kerry Irving, 46, credits the dog with giving him a “reason to live” after a road traffic accident left him unable to walk and with severe depression.
The keen amateur photographer began to record their adventures on Facebook page Max Out in the Lakes.
After hundreds of requests from Facebook fans who wanted to meet Max, in 2016 Mr Irving had him trained as a therapy dog by Assistance Dogs UK so he could make visits to schools, hospitals and hospices.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Max continued to provide comfort to his social media followers, who were able to join him on his daily walks through Facebook Live.
Mr 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 front line 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.”
Since 2017, Max has met more than 10,000 people through meet-and-greets, charity walks, appearances and school visits and helped to raise nearly £300,000 for a number of charities, including PDSA.
The Order of Merit, launched in 2014, has previously been given to 32 dogs and horses who were specifically trained to perform roles, including as police dogs, medical detection dogs and search and rescue dogs.
Max will be the first ever pet to receive the honour.