When C. C. Bernstein was little, her mother would tell her the story of Princess Pinecone before bed each night. It followed the adventures of a Thumbelina-sized princess, whose home was a pinecone and who had an extensive collection of gossamer silk dresses.
Using this childhood story as inspiration, Bernstein, now 32, incorporated fanciful details—such as likening the pinecone to “the size of a grain of rice,” and introducing a community of little friends—into her debut children’s book, Princess Pinecone and the Wee Royals, which teaches acceptance and compassion. “It’s a story of kindness, empathy, and courage, one that I grew up falling asleep to,” says Bernstein. “And it just created that bond between my mother and me that I think is so important for kids.”
For Bernstein, the writing was the easy part, having developed it from the childhood story she knew so well. But the book itself took years to produce. When it came to illustrations, “I just knew I wanted to do something creative, something different,” she says.
Eventually Bernstein stumbled upon the work of Irem Yazici, a Turkey-based embroidery artist, and fell in love with it. “She just has this kind of whimsical fantasy vibe that was very fitting with the story I wanted to tell,” says Bernstein. So she hired Yazici to embroider the book’s illustrations.
Each hand-stitched panel took Yazici about 40 hours to complete, with the finished book taking more than 1,400 hours over three years. And while this special original edition is not for sale, its copies feature impeccably detailed photographs of this feat of embroidery.
When Kerry Irving heard a whimper and caught sight of a young dog peering at him through a gap in the railings, he was at rock bottom. A car accident in 2006 had left him housebound and in chronic pain. His mental health suffered and he went on to be diagnosed with severe depression.
Three years after the crash, while out for a rare walk, he met Max and began to turn his life around. He ended up becoming the dog’s owner and has used Max’s uplifting nature to help others.
Last week the springer spaniel from Keswick in the Lake District became the first pet to win what has been called an animal OBE in recognition of the service he has provided to thousands during lockdown as a virtual “therapet”. He trained as a therapy dog with Assistance Dogs UK in 2016.
“I think it’s the look that he gives you,” Irving, 55, told The Times. “He just looks straight into your soul and just fixes people. He can walk into a room and literally sit next to someone and just look at them.”
Throughout the pandemic Max’s skills have been put to use online, cheering up thousands of followers through videos on social media. Anyone feeling lonely or anxious has been able to join Kerry and his dog on daily walks screened through Facebook Live.
He will receive the PDSA Order of Merit at a virtual ceremony hosted by the charity. Jan McLoughlin, its director-general, 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 well-being, which is more important now than ever. PDSA is honored to recognize Max with the PDSA Order of Merit, for embodying the contribution that animals make to human lives, beyond ordinary companionship.”
The veterinary charity began its awards in 2014 and until now all 32 dogs and horses to receive the medal have been specifically trained working animals. “It’s an incredible achievement for a little dog in the Lake District to get recognition for something that’s normally given out to service dogs, fire dogs or war dogs,” his owner said.
Max belonged to Irving’s neighbors when they met in 2009 but was taken on by him when the friends moved away. He has helped to give Irving a more positive outlook on life and since 2017 Max has met more than 10,000 people through personal meet and greets, charity walks and school visits. He has helped to raise more than $422,000 for charities. “I don’t know what it is, it’s the strangest thing,” Irving said. “He just seems to know when people need him.”
He knew from the day they met in 2009 at his lowest point that Max, now 13, was special. “I actually felt completely isolated from anything in the world,” he recalled. “I had nothing to look forward to, I didn’t want to get out of bed, shower or eat. I just wanted to curl up in my bed and die.” After his first introduction to Max, Irving found he wanted to go back and see him again.
He then asked Max’s owner if he could take him on short walks. “That’s how it all started,” Irving said. “Me going every day to see this little dog. It gave me something else to focus on instead of a downward spiral. It gave me a little bit of a spark.”
Irving began charting their joint adventures on his Facebook page and quickly their number of followers began to grow. There were hundreds of requests from fans desperate to meet Max and to support this he trained as a therapy dog. He was then able to make special visits to schools, hospitals and hospices. When his popularity continued to grow, Irving began organizing walks for charity, so that large groups of people could come together and meet him.
As well as his new accolade, Max has met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and is even getting a statue in his honor that will be unveiled in a Lake District park this spring.
Despite his status, Max has taken his new prize fully in his stride, celebrating with a sausage for his evening meal.