Max the Miracle Dog
- Cristina Stavro
Words by Nick Harding. Photos contributed by Kerry Irving, Ruffwear UK Ambassador.
His name is Max, and he’s called the Miracle Dog. Hearing just some of his amazing story, it’s not hard to see why. If you're looking for a story about the special bond that exists between man and dog, read on.
A serious traffic accident meant Kerry Irving lost not just a successful career but his whole way in life. A springer spaniel saved him.
The story starts in 2006, Kerry retells: “Life was good. A bit stressful. But I used to do a lot of cycling (some 600-700 miles a month), and a lot of walking. That was my release from being in an office, plus doing 45,000 miles a year up and down the country, going to factories, meeting people. It was my adrenaline fix.”
That August it all come to a stop, literally. He was coming home from work one night and a lorry (a truck for transporting goods) ran into the back of his car. What was initially diagnosed as whiplash turned into dizzy sensations, inability to walk in a straight line or hold anything, blurred vision, and worse. Depression followed and it wasn’t until an MRI scan some two years later that a prolapsed disc in Kerry’s neck was revealed.
By then, however, in Kerry’s words: “I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, couldn’t be bothered to talk, get dressed, shower. You start going down a very slippery slope. Then your friends stop knocking on the door. And you start thinking, my wife would be better off without me, I’m just a burden. I was literally lying in bed thinking how can I end this.”
A chance meeting with Max (pictured above), a close neighbour in their home town of Keswick, changed everything. “I went home and said to my wife, Angela, I’ve seen a dog. And the next day I decided to go and see him again. I just stood by the fence and stroked him. And I did that every day. It was my goal to go and see him. It was my getting-back-outside moment."
“One day his owner came out as I was stroking him, and I asked if I could take him out. She said I’d be doing her a favour. I opened that gate for Max to come out and that was it. I walked him about 50 metres that day. It was as far as I could go. And we just sat on a wall. He looked at me as if to say: ‘Yeah. I’ll come with you because you’re getting me out of here. And I’ll look after you.’”
The subsequent progress meant more and more walks, as Max helped Kerry on his road to recovery. The next major step came when Max’s owners offered their dog to Kerry, some five and a half years after that first encounter.
Kerry recalls: “Me being a man, I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll take him,’ then I went round the corner and burst into tears. It was the best day of my life (apart from the day I got married, of course).”
Kerry lists going up Ben Nevis for the first time, back in 2012, as another key moment in his life with Max. “It took me six years to walk up a hill again after my accident… but it took me six hours go up and down Ben Nevis, and Max was beside me every step of the way.”
But, he adds, “It took me three months to recover from it. I was really ill. Neck injuries are not good for walking, believe me. It’s OK going uphill, coming down again really puts the pressure on.”
Another highlight was an invitation to go to Buckingham Palace. “When the invite came through it was for myself and my wife, Angela. After a couple of phone calls we got a special allowance for Max to turn up.
“Within minutes of putting it on Facebook to say Max had been invited, it went berserk. We had a lady contact us from the Metropolitan Police, asking to come and meet Max on the day. We had the press covering us going down, a police escort, police horses into Buckingham Palace, and then we were presented to William and Kate.”
These days Max is very much the elder statesman to what is a gang of three. Paddy and Harry are fellow springers, with Kerry describing them as “100mph” (Paddy) and “mini-Max” (Harry).
“When I told one of my friends I wanted to get a puppy, they said don’t get a spaniel, because you’ll compare it to Max. But then you think you’ll love them differently because every dog is different. They’ve all got different personalities and boy have we got different personalities in our bunch.”
Max and his little gang can also claim to have raised something in the region of £250,000 for charity. Much of that is another collection of stories. Just one was a return to Ben Nevis in August 2020, to celebrate Max’s 13th birthday (he stayed at the bottom, with friends). “That meant a lot of pressure for me,” says Kerry. “I got to the top and I’d had enough, to be honest. Now, Harry usually chases around, but on that day he walked beside me every step of the way. He literally walked to heel with me every step of the way.”
“On the way down we had another strange moment. We got about a third of the way and I was really struggling, mentally and physically. This blast of orange went past me – that’s the colour of the harness that Max wears. I don’t know if I imagined it, if it was my subconscious thinking that’s where he always is, but this strangest thing had happened and from that moment I was alright. And that is the honest truth.”
The full tale of Kerry and his Best Friend is told in a book, Max the Miracle Dog, which at one point reached number three in the Sunday Times Bestellers List.
There’s a memorial to Max coming, too, in Keswick. Look out for a bronze statue on a bench – a tribute not just to a very special dog but also a place where others can come and be inspired by the relationships between dogs and humans.
Kerry also points to a long relationship with Ruffwear. “Our dogs have become known for their colours. Max has an orange Front Range® Harness, Paddy has green, Harry wears red. But our involvement with Ruffwear began when I bought a lead in 2008... for a dog that I didn’t own (i.e. Max)."
“We got Paddy in 2018. We had that lead for ten years. It was my first Ruffwear purchase. Then Paddy ate it.” Well, that’s what some dogs do…
Max really has performed miracles – inspiring tens of thousands of others around the world. Just take a look at the comments on his Facebook page, feedback to the daily updates and live feeds that show just how he motivates so many. And then you hear things like, he received nearly 1,100 cards on his 12th birthday, many containing donations. In the past year alone, he’s been invited into over a dozen schools, plus businesses, even two nuclear power stations… so that Kerry can talk about all facets of depression.
And all this came from a chance encounter between one man and one dog.
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