In August, DogTime.com first reported on the now-famous photograph of John Unger and his 19-year-old Shepherd mix, Schoep, as the two snuggled in Lake Superior, a touching look at the eternal bond between a man and his aging dog.
Since then, the picture viewed around the world has made headlines on Good Morning America, Inside Edition, and The Today Show, among other worldwide programs.
More than a month since the photograph first went viral, Unger still can’t believe all of the love and support he and Schoep have received from people here in the U.S. and on the other side of the world.
“I think it’s in India right now, because I’m getting comments from people in India right now on my Facebook page,” Unger told TwinCities.com of the photograph.
Back in July, when the photo was first captured by Unger’s friend and professional photographer, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, Schoep was suffering from painful, crippling arthritis. Treatments and medication for Schoep’s condition were expensive, and Unger did not know how he would pay for them.
“Without treatment, John and I were talking about euthanasia at the end of July,” said Schoep’s veterinarian, Dr. Erik Haukass of Bay Area Animal Hospital in Ashland, Wis.
Hudson’s photograph was meant to be a final keepsake for Unger to remember Schoep by, but it ended up being the very thing that saved the old dog’s life.
“I started to get phone calls,” Haukaas explained. “People wanted to put money toward Schoep’s account.”
Thousands of well-wishers, inspired by the photograph, were giving their own money to help cover the cost of Schoep’s treatments.
“When we started him on pain medicine and glucosamine and laser therapy, we were hoping to make an improvement,” said Dr. Haukaas. “It doesn’t always. It is just one more thing we try instead of putting a dog to sleep. In this case, it all worked out tremendously.”
“Schoep is doing incredible right now,” Unger told Daily Mail Online when Schoep started to improve as a result of the special treatments. “The therapies that the people have donated — it’s like turning back the clock a year and a half,” Unger said. Unger often posts updates on Shoep’s condition on his Facebook page.
As generous donations continue to pour in from dog lovers all around the globe, Unger has decided to use that money to help save the lives of other dogs — and their humans, too. With Schoep as their constant inspiration, Unger, Hudson, and Dr. Haukaas have started the Schoep’s Legacy Foundation, which aims to raise funds for animal and human welfare. So far, more than $25,000 has been collected to help families in need care for their aging dogs or spay/neuter their pets. Money has also helped local rescue organizations and groups that help dogs and military veterans.
“The idea is to pay it forward; give it to other organizations, to help out other animals in the area and use the money in the spirit it was given,” Haukaas said.
“It is incredible to be in a position to help others,” Unger added, knowing that it was the help that he and Schoep received that made the difference in their lives. “These people have been so generous to Schoep and me. Now it’s our turn to give back.”