Crippled in a car crash, in constant agony and addicted to painkillers – Kerry was suicidal… until he met Max the Spaniel. When Kerry Irving looks lovingly into his dog Max’s eyes it’s easy to believe him when he says the devoted Springer spaniel saved his life.
Once a high-powered manager with a multi-million-pound budget, he had hit rock bottom after a 2006 road accident left him with crippling spinal injuries that ended his career.
In constant pain, practically house-bound and addicted to prescription painkillers, he could see no future.
It looked like the end of his social life and his hobby of cycling up to 600 miles a month around his home in Keswick, in the Lake District, where he lived with his wife Angela.
Kerry, 55, recalled: “I was isolated, dependent on heavy drugs and I felt a burden on my wife.
“The nerve damage meant I could only shuffle along. I started thinking I didn’t want to be here. Every day and night I would think about ending it all.
I knew exactly how I’d do it.”
Then, in August 2009, Angela persuaded him to go to the corner shop for some milk, simply to get him out of the house.
Kerry said: “I didn’t think I could do it but she made me go. I got to the corner of our road and saw Max’s nose sticking through the railing of a gate.
“I stopped to say hello because I’d had spaniels when I was younger. He looked at me and straight away there was a connection.
“Stuck in a yard, it was as if he was saying, ‘My life’s pretty rubbish and yours doesn’t look much better’.
“For me, it was a tiny glimmer of what life could become again.” After that, Kerry would offer to pop out every day, just so he could see Max. Then, after a couple of weeks, he asked the dog’s owner if he could take him for a walk.
He said: “It was the best thing that has happened to me, after getting married.”
Kerry, who has now written a book, Max The Miracle Dog, said: “We went 60 feet up the road to a sandstone wall and I was exhausted.
“When you have an ailment that people can’t see, but you’re shuffling away and physically gasping, you feel so self-conscious.
“But with Max, it didn’t matter. We could stop and it was just a man having a rest with his dog.”
From then on, Max provided Kerry with the motivation to go further and further. One of his first goals was to get to Derwentwater lake.
He said: “It’s six minutes’ walk from my house but it took us an hour and a half because I’d shuffle then stop, shuffle then stop.
“I couldn’t have done it on my own because I would have panicked about how I would get back. But I wanted Max to get there because I remembered how much my old spaniels loved water.”
Still in immense pain, Kerry had found a reason to live – as well as a good listener.
He said: “I could tell him how bad I felt my life was. As anyone who has had a dog knows, they are very good listeners and it’s often easier to talk to them than to people.”
The arrangement also suited Max’s owner, who was a carer for her father and couldn’t exercise the dog as much as she would have liked. Kerry – who has since got two more dogs, Paddy, three, and Harry, one – said: “It was about reprogramming my brain.
Being with Max took me from thinking, ‘I’m in pain, I can’t do anything’ to ‘I can get out and do things again’.”
Such was his transformation, Kerry has since retrained as a locksmith.
He said: “I liked working out puzzles and thought it would let me work to my own schedule, allowing myself time off to recover when I needed it. The second thought was I could get a van and Max could come with me.”
To publicise his new business, Kerry made Max “Head of Security” and posted picturesque photos of him in the Lake District.
Life was becoming good again – but there was just one cloud. Kerry said: “Every day it broke my heart to give Max back.
People would say, ‘Why don’t you just get your own dog?’ And I’d say, ‘But then it wouldn’t be Max’. There is only one Max. He was my lifesaver.”
In 2012 fate stepped in again. Max’s owner was moving away and asked Kerry if he would like to adopt him.
Not long afterwards, despite the fact that he had only just mastered walking uphill, the pair climbed all 4,400 ft of Ben Nevis, in the Scottish Highlands.
It took six hours to go up and down the UK’s highest peak – and it took Kerry three months to recover from the exertion.
He said: “It damn near killed us. I was a fool really but I thought, ‘Go for the biggest, why not?’ If I’d been alone, I might have been tempted to pretend I’d got to the top, but I couldn’t let Max down.
“It was the best feeling to get to the top. I was the highest person in the UK, with Max at my side.”
Kerry now manages his pain with nothing stronger than the odd paracetamol. He said: “I was on prescription pills for ten years after the accident.
“I would get anxious about when I would be able to take another one. By the end I was on the strongest medication the doctors could give.
“Sometimes I would take 12 a day and it didn’t touch the pain at all. The doctor said it would take two years to come off them, by reducing the strength gradually every month.
“I thought I knew better and stopped taking them. Four hours later, Angela begged me to take one because I was sat in a corner, shaking and sweating.
“I can understand how people do stupid things on drugs, like burglaries, because it’s the need for the next dose. I was addicted.”
Kerry took his last pill 18 months after he vowed to come off them. He said: “I struggle when it’s cold, wet and damp. If I go walking with my camera bag slung on my shoulder then I’ll feel it the next day.
“But I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve had a second chance at life. I was in a career that was cut-throat and ruthless.
“Going through what I have, I realise it’s not about money or a fancy car, it’s about time and health.
“You don’t need that much to get by and from helping others by talking to them and sharing Max with them, I’ve become a lot richer.”
He and Max’s story has delighted people all over the world. Max’s Facebook page, Max Out In The Lake District, features pictures of all three of Kerry’s dogs. It has more than 100,000 followers and led to an award from Keswick Tourism.
Last year, on the ITV programme Britain’s Top 100 Dogs, Kerry revealed what he had been through and how Max had helped him.
Now a mental health campaigner, he said: “Suddenly people were coming up to me and shaking my hand. Or they’d stop their car and tell me, ‘I’m glad you’re still here’.
“Within 24 hours of the programme being aired I had 10,000 messages. So many people told me they had experienced something similar to me, or that they’d lost a loved one, and my dogs brought them some joy. I realised this could be a vessel for something bigger.”
Kerry has organised several charity walks with his dogs and has raised more than £130,000 for good causes.
Max and Paddy have received a commendation from the animal charity PDSA for bringing comfort and support to thousands of people.
Max has trained as a therapy dog, and even attended a garden party for community champions at Buckingham Palace last year and received a pat from the Duchess of Cambridge – who he has also met in Keswick.
Kerry said: “There’s something special about Max, everyone who meets him says so. It’s something in the way he looks at you. “He’s the most loyal, loving friend. He looked into my soul and fixed me.”
(Article source: The Sun)