It’s 2012, and a Wisconsin man has walked out into Lake Superior with his dog, Schoep, in his arms. Fully clothed, he proceeds to rock Schoep to sleep in the water. Thankfully, his friend was present to capture this tender daily ritual and share it with the world. The photo has since gone viral and has resulted in huge global interest.
The bond between a man and his dog is a powerful thing, and especially if the relationship has lasted over two decades. As is the case with these two, as one man proved just how unbreakable the bond between a man and his pet can be. At Popular Everything, we’re bringing you the amazing story of John Unger and his arthritic dog Schoep.
Winning Schoep’s Trust and Conquering His Fears
Schoep was a Malamute/Shepherd-mix puppy that John had rescued after the poor pup suffered abuse at the hands of his previous owner. John even remembers the mistrust Schoep had for him at the beginning, when he would stay up all night with the pup trying to win him over. John said he was trying to get Schoep “to think of me as another dog and not a man trying to hurt him.” Eventually, he managed to win Schoep’s trust.
They were inseparable, going everywhere together, and even managed to conquer Schoep’s fears. John recalls that he had actually started taking Schoep into the water 13 years prior to that famous photo of them, as Schoep couldn’t swim. John remembers his fear of water, and that “whenever he got into the water he would just put his paws on my shoulders and want to be held.” After several years, Schoep would eventually fetch a ball from the lake.
A Bond Strong Enough to Save You
John Unger himself has suffered from depression throughout his life. During a particularly bad time, he credits Schoep as having rescued him from taking his own life. John relays, “it came to the point of me thinking, ‘OK, this is the time.’ And I looked down at Schoep and he had a look like no other time he looked at me.”
John continues, “I look back at it now and he knew something was wrong.” From that moment on, John didn’t reconsider. “He just snapped me out of that moment… we walked around the rest of the night until dawn,” he remembers fondly. The next day, he realized Schoep was responsible for renewing his faith in life.
Doing Whatever Schoep Needs for Pain Relief
After sharing 19 years of life together, Schoep was suffering from painful arthritis and John feared he would soon have to put him down. He asked his photographer friend, Hannah Hudson, to come to their local lake and photograph their tender “water therapy” routine, in case they didn’t have long left together. John had heard about the benefits of water therapy in alleviating arthritis pain, so he took him regularly to the Lake Superior shoreline.
When temperatures were high in the water it allowed Schoep to feel weightless and relaxed. The photo that captured this moment soon went viral on Facebook after it was posted by Hannah, garnering huge attention and donations to get Schoep therapy. Within a few days, the photo had received 300,000 likes and 32,000 comments, overwhelming John with such unexpected attention.
The Viral Photo That Touched so Many Hearts Became Schoep’s Lifesaver
John would go through each of the Facebook comments from well-wishers. “To see that this photo has lifted their spirits… that right there lifted mine even higher,” he said. People were so moved they started donating. “A woman from Virginia basically paid for the latest laser therapy on his joints, and I don’t know how much it is, but I know I couldn’t have done that.” Schoep went on to live over a year after his euthanasia prognosis.
“How do I thank them? It’s just such an amazing thing,” John rejoices. It’s due to the generosity of all those well-wishers that Schoep was able to see his 20th birthday; an astonishingly old age for a dog of his size. The fascinating story of a man and his dog from Bayfield proved to the world that dogs really are a man’s best friend!