'He saved MY life... I just want to help him in return': Owner of sick dog whose picture touched the nation's hearts reveals how loyal companion stopped him from suicide

The unconditional love of a dog is a powerful thing. Just ask John Unger of Bayfield, Wis.

For the past 19 years, Unger’s loyal companion has been a shepherd mix named Schoep. Unger learned two weeks ago that his dog had severe arthritis and may need to be put down soon. He was devastated — and also determined to help alleviate Schoep’s pain.

Unger knew that people suffering from arthritis respond well to water therapy, so he brought his aging dog to one of their favorite spots: Lake Superior. His idea was to take advantage of the lake’s higher-than-average temperatures this summer and let Schoep feel weightless and relaxed. Considering the grim prognosis from the veterinarian, Unger also called his photographer friend, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, to see whether she had time to capture a special photo of Schoep just in case.

Stonehouse Hudson met them at the lake for about five minutes and snapped a few shots. A few days later on Aug. 1, she uploaded her favorite image of the man and his dog to Facebook — and an Internet sensation was unleashed.

As of Thursday, the photo on her Stonehouse Photography Facebook page had nearly 300,000 likes and 32,000 comments. Since the photo went viral, Unger has been trying to adjust to his sudden popularity.

“The first four days I was literally in shock,” he told He said he spent the first two days reading every single one of the comments on Facebook. Most of them offer words of encouragement for Schoep and admiration for Unger.

“I would read about five of them and lose it for a good ten minutes and then come back to it,” Unger said. “To see that this photo has lifted their spirits ... that right there lifts mine even higher.”

Unger actually began floating Schoep in Lake Superior 13 years ago — but for different reasons. It started because Schoep was a terrible swimmer and didn’t much like the water anyway. It took him several years to be convinced to fetch a ball in the lake, let alone swim in it.

“Whenever he got into the water he wouldn’t swim and would just put his paws on my shoulders and want to be held,” Unger recalled. “One of these times, all of a sudden, he was asleep. We’ve been doing it periodically since then.”

He’s stepped up the soaks in the lake since Schoep’s diagnosis. Unger said he can already see an improvement in Schoep’s limp, although he doesn’t think it will ever go away.

Unger adopted Schoep as a rescue dog with his then-fiancée nearly 20 years ago. Schoep had been abused as a puppy and it took months for him to trust Unger. But Unger didn’t give up. He stayed up with him that first night and then many nights after, coaxing him to trust him by sometimes getting on all fours. He said he wanted Schoep “to think of me as another dog and not a man trying to hurt him.”

A year or so after Unger and his fiancée adopted Schoep, the relationship broke up. The two shared custody of Schoep for a while until she left for graduate school in Colorado, and then it was just the man and his dog.

Unger said he has fought against depression for a lifetime, and after his relationship ended, he endured some tough years. On one particularly difficult night he took Schoep down to Lake Michigan, their usual evening walking spot back in those days.

“I went out on the breakwater and I was thinking about committing suicide,” he said. “And I was out there for about an hour just thinking about things and it came to the point of me thinking, ‘OK, this is the time.’ And I looked down at Schoep and I don’t know what it was ... he had a look like no other time he looked at me. I look back at it now and he knew something was wrong.”

It took that look by Schoep to help bring Unger back from the brink. “He just snapped me out of that moment ... we walked around the rest of the night until dawn.” The next day he thanked Schoep for saving his life.

Unger broke down and cried as he reflected on how much Schoep has given him, and how he has tried his best to always give him what he could. “I’ve never had a lot of money and especially going through the depression I couldn’t hold a job,” he said, adding, “Schoep has given me his all, no matter what the circumstances, even when I can’t get him the best food.”

After Stonehouse Hudson’s photo made such wide rounds online, strangers began reaching out to help. “A woman from Virginia basically paid for the latest laser therapy on his joints,” he said. “She paid for a full treatment, and I don’t know how much it is, but I know I couldn’t have done that.”

Schoep just had his second installment of treatments Wednesday, and has four more to go. Unger got a surprise when he took Schoep in for his latest appointment. As he walked in, his vet smiled at him. “What’s going on?” Unger asked. His vet said, “See all the stuff behind me?” Unger looked, and there were packages of glucosamine, treats and other treatments to help Schoep with joint pain.

Unger cried as he said, “People from all over are doing this. I can’t believe it. So much has come in already in donations that I don’t have to worry about anything at the vet anymore.”

All of the donors are anonymous. “How do I thank them?” he said. “It’s just such an amazing thing.”
Written by Jillian Eugenios SOURCE

Responses to "In loving arms: Man floats his sick dog to sleep. (PHOTOS)"

  1. A perfect companion and the reason that my whole life has revolved around my dogs. There is so much to learn from their unconditional devotion and love. If mankind knew how to behave more like this, we would live in a much different world. Namaste...

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Doug

  3. Anonymous says:

    Very deep...teary...THIS touched me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    such a touching story, the pictures show the love of man and dog... my best wishes to both of you from new zealand

  5. Anonymous says:

    Totaly beautiful story, if more people in the world realized how wonderfull animals are maybe the world would be better!!!! No not maybe it would!!!!

  6. Lonewolf says:

    wonderful story a blessing in this heartless world

  7. So heart touching, I wish for more, it shows there are some out there that still care. Many Blessings and Much Love

  8. Anonymous says:

    humanity is just not lost

  9. Sue Blondie says:

    what a lovely thing to do for your faithful friend

  10. Anonymous says:

    This story has touched me deeply. It shows the bond and love that happens when people have dogs. It also proves to me that humanity isn't dead after all and there are still a lot of caring and generous people in the world. GOD bless you both and all those who care and have been able to help.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I read the story very touching a dog will love you forever I am 73 years old it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart God bless you and your dog

  12. Anonymous says:

    hi unger
    this is the best dog story i have read .it made me cry..but was happy aswell.that you have so many well cant beat the love of a dog and his owner,i know .dog is mans best proved that....good luck to you both..your dog is beautiful..i am a real dog lover so this comes from the heart...lots love angelroses.....

  13. rosey says:

    I cried when I read this, my collie Moss's birth five years ago, helped my with my breakdown. He and my 13 year old dog Mist are my life, along with our rescue horses.

  14. BOB HANNEGAN says:

    DOG IS GOD SPELLED BACKWARDS.................

  15. Dawn Suitch says:

    God has rewarded both you and Schoep with each others love. God bless you both.

  16. Anonymous says:

    My dog saved me too, they are so intuitive and loving, we are better people because of animals. Very loving story

  17. Anonymous says:

    i know the feeling of loveing your dog or as for me its dogs. ive had old dogs with arthritis so bad they would look at me like please help, i dont have much money so i would massage them .and one little dog i would rock her for hours in my rocker so she could sleep. ive been put down by a lot of people because i treat my dogs like kids. i like my dogs better than most people i know and meet. people who treat their dogs like that has a special place in my heart.

  18. Gail Hunt Speed says:

    My companion, Chief, is over 12 and has arthritis in his shoulders. He and I share the same medications and the same difficulties walking. He has been my joy and my constant support for years and has pulled me back from the brink as well. God bless you as you care for your friend till the end. Only true animal lovers understand the true love an animal gives you!

  19. What a beautiful story of love... and it seems like that love is flowing back to Schoep & Unger in ways that may allow them more time together. Blessings!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing.. This really touched my heart. I understand how something, someone can snap you out of a sad place in your heart. I have a cat I adopted who has done that for me. She is an amazing gift to my life just as Schoep has..
    Blessings and Prayers sent your way and to all who read this post.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It is so wonderful to see how our pets truly our family. Have you tried nutrition products. I rep a line called standard process which is a while food based product. Look it up and if you are interested I will send you some. A gift from another dog lover. Where can I send them to?

  22. Anonymous says:

    So happy that you have each other....they are truly gifts from God - so gentle and ever loving. Prayers sent that the treatments help your sweet companion.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this update of John & Schoep and getting to read John Unger's own words. I tear up when ever I see the picture of them in the water knowing the love behind it and now there is so much more that brings tears to my eyes of joy for the beautiful souls that are donating from their hearts to John & Schoep. Brightest Blessings to John and Schoep and all animal lovers that have or have felt that connection with any animal, I am that blessed and grateful everyday.

  24. Dark angel says:

    This is yet another wonderful example of the incredible loyalty and love that exists between humans and animals: how humbling, how inspiring. if only animals could speak., m,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I cannot imagine my life without my dog: to see the joy and excitement in his loving dark eye when I return home from work every evening. What a privilege to have pets.

  25. Connor says:

    You're dog is amazing, keep going. Best wishes from Canada

  26. Anonymous says:

    my heart goes out to you,,,, we know what it is to have one of your family members suffer and their can't tell u what is wrong with them,,,, their look at u with their with eyes and u know that their are hurting,,,, we have two dogs, three cats and a old bird that just turn 24,,,, I so bless to have my Deedee and Nicko (both of them dogs) their sleep with me,,,, which their r doing right now in my chair.... my prays go out to u and Schoep....

  27. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad I read this. After seeing the cruelties to wolves and horses this made me feel good

  28. Frances Price says:

    John, you have thanked everyone just by loving your precious Schoep. The tears are still flowing as I write this. My precious Cisco was an amazing girl and I was lucky enough to have her for 16 wonderful years. I love you and Schoep and I will think of you often.

  29. Anonymous says:

    yes that touched me to i hope u r both ok now all my love from New Zealand

  30. Anonymous says:

    This story let's people know that there is still animal lovers out there that loves their animal. Animals are special gifts from GOD & we need to treat them as we would want to be treated. God bless & keep you both. You both are an inspiration to mankind.

  31. Anonymous says:

    You have given me a new reason to keep going and not give up. I am bed ridden and trying to get back the use of my legs and try to walk again. Thank you for giving me hope!

  32. Anonymous says:

    I do not know what I would do without my "Little Bear". He is only just turning 5 but we knew a year ago that due to his size, we needed to look to the future. Our vet gave the ok on some vitamins and supplements. Unger is one of us "parents". I feel sorrow for the animals that only have "owners".

  33. Anonymous says:

    I Thank God for your story. I pray that it will touch hearts and lives who may think that they can't make it...

  34. My eyes have tears in them...I love Misha marie for 17 years and her arthritis was too painful to bear. Your love and compassion are the greatest gifts you can give this gentle soul. God bless you both. Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  35. Anonymous says:

    Isnt it amazing how much we need the love of someone or something.
    I lost my golden labaradore during the year after 17 years and miss him dearly.Ill bet if you could read Schoep,s thoughts you would be amazed at the loyalty and love your companion has for you.
    Thanks for sharing your story Doug, truly inspirational

  36. Anonymous says:

    I had lost my Chow Husky mix years ago, the feelings come back to me once again. No matter what, a dog IS a best friend. God bless ALL who have helped.

  37. Anonymous says:

    You are one fantastic person. I wish I could meet you in person and shake your hand in thanks for what you are doing. May you grow old together and love each other as much as you do now. My thoughts are with you both.

  38. Anonymous says:

    John, this is a wonderful story about a friendship! and a wonderful dog owner who is very caring,I understand your love for Schoep! I had to put my dog down, and it was very heartbreaking. On an up note I realized that it wasn't just my love for my dog , it was the love for all animals who suffer. and John there is so many. I hope Schoep stays with you a little longer then the first diagnosis. after that I hope you will share your kind and gentle love with another who could use it. lynn

  39. Anonymous says:

    What a sweet sweet man, .

  40. Anonymous says:

    This is unbelievably beautiful. I am thrilled you are both doing so well.

  41. Anonymous says:

    merci pour ce témoignage de pure tendresse! cela nous change des images courantes de cruauté que l'on voit malheureusment trop souvent appliqué sur nos amis les animaux. C'est avec une attitude comme la votre que espère le changement général! félicitation!

  42. Anonymous says:

    I love this! It is tremendously beautiful, and has my heart in aww <3 sending much love <3 I myself wish i could send gifts. But I will hold my dog and love him too, cause they like our children are Gods gift to us. I wish everyone could love so much.

  43. Morgana says:

    A heartbeaking sweet story

  44. Anonymous says:

    for me it's a GREAT MAN !!!! I will always have this picture and story in my mind. Yes GREAT MAN <3

  45. Anonymous says:

    A dog's love can be a most wonderful thing. I'm glad you have had such a wonderful relationship with Schoep.

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