“There’s a term that’s sometimes used to describe depression, and that’s the ‘black dog’. It’s like having one sitting on you all the time, stopping you from doing anything. And for me, it took a real big black dog to get rid of mine.”
Those are the words of 27-year-old Max Landowski as he explains the reasons for nominating his family’s rescue mastiff Lemmy for the Blue Cross Medal. Quite simply, he says the hero hound saved his life.
“I don’t think I’d still be here if it wasn’t for Lemmy. I owe my life to him and that is amazing,” he added.
It’s no surprise, then, that the judges were deeply moved by Lemmy’s story and made him this year’s medal winner, placing him alongside a long list extraordinary pets that have transformed or saved human lives.
Max, who has a history of depression, had been struggling with suicidal thoughts – compounded by the loss of the previous family dog, Suzi – and says that Lemmy’s arrival proved to be an almost instant antidote to his mental illness.
“When we first went to meet him at the centre, I felt a strong bond with him straight away. And literally within the first day of having him I was a different person. I was just so happy and it brought me out of myself; I couldn’t believe the difference. Lemmy is my reason for getting up in the morning,” said Max.
His physical health has also improved, not only because Max is going out walking with Lemmy every day but because the pooch’s positive influence has given him the confidence to get out more – and he has even joined a gym.
“I’ve got problems with my knees and that has, in the past, put me off of going out as much. But having Lemmy and the routine we have has made a massive difference,” said Max.
“Beyond that, I’m doing more things for myself; he’s given me that push. The success of the training we've done and the fact that I can take him out for a walk and let him off the lead with the ability to control him has given me the confidence that I have the ability to do other things.”
Joining the Landowski family also marked a turnaround for the downtrodden puppy who had been abandoned on the streets at just a few months old and had experienced very little happiness or kindness in his short life.
“He hadn’t started off in a nice place in life and I wasn’t in a mentally good place, so I think we both just clicked knowing that we needed each other. We’re both a lot happier and it’s because of the bond that we’ve established,” said Max, who along with mum Maria, dad Derek and younger brother Joe, rehomed Lemmy from Blue Cross’s Southampton centre in December last year.
And it’s not just Max’s life that’s been transformed by Lemmy’s arrival either. Derek's blood pressure has dropped and Joe, who suffers with social anxiety, is spending more and more time with his family because of Lemmy. Joe and Max’s brotherly bond has strengthened, as they’re walking and playing with Lemmy together.
For retired Maria, Lemmy is not only company when she’s home alone, but the reason for her family’s happiness.
She said: “I’m overjoyed; I can’t tell you as a mother how rewarding it has been for everybody. Lemmy is the most amazing dog and I love him with all my heart.
“Joe hadn’t come out of his bedroom in the evenings for five years. He wouldn’t even go in the garden. Now I come down some mornings and he’s out there playing with Lemmy.
“And Lemmy has made such a vast difference to Max, he really has. He definitely did save his life. He was down and depressed; it was awful to see your child go through such grief and not be able to communicate with you, especially because we’re such a close family.
“And then the minute Lemmy came on the scene Max was a different man. It was like a light had come on; the switch had been flipped. The love that they share is just incredible.”
Max added: “I’m really proud of Lemmy for winning the Blue Cross Medal. There are a lot of animals out there that do amazing things for people but for him to get recognised for it is something completely different.
“He really is a remarkable dog. It’s amazing to feel happy again and have the energy to get up and do stuff.
“Lemmy has helped me so much that I would strongly recommend getting a pet to anyone else that suffers with mental illness or who feels alone. They can change your life in so many ways.”
Celebrities including Love Island’s Olivia Buckland and TV presenter Suzi Perry have supported the charity’s medal call throughout the year, showing their love for the pets in their lives and encouraging people to nominate their own hero pets.
Congratulating Lemmy, Olivia said: “I am so proud to have been involved in the Blue Cross Medal by encouraging people to put their pets forward for this award. As a pet owner myself, I know just what an amazing impact they can have on us. The difference Lemmy has made to his owners’ lives is just incredible and no doubt this award will continue to unearth ordinary pets doing extraordinary things for years to come.”
Sally de la Bedoyere, Blue Cross Chief Executive and one of the medal judges, added: “Lemmy’s story really did touch our hearts. It was difficult to choose a winner as all the nominations showed how much pets enrich our lives in so many wonderful ways, but we felt this amazing pup was a true and outstanding hero. Lemmy’s story shows how any pet, from any background, can have an important, even life-saving, influence on their owners.
“The Blue Cross Medal is awarded to recognise the important roles pets play in our lives. They’re our family, our best friends, and even our life-savers. They change our lives and that is why Blue Cross will always be around to help change theirs when they are in need.”