Photo of man and dog captures hearts, inspires charity

John Unger’s beloved dog is benefiting from some expensive medical treatment thanks to a photograph that went viral over the weekend.

The image is of John Unger holding his 19 year old dog Schoep in Lake Superior. Unger rescued the dog as a puppy, and the two have been through a lot together. Now the aging companion suffers from arthritis; Unger found that the unusually warm waters of Lake Superior helped the dog to relax and fall asleep. Unger asked Bayfield, Wisconsin photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson to capture what he believed might be his last journey into the lake with his canine friend.

The photo, taken on July 31st, has been viewed well over two million times on Facebook, and shared over 100,000 times. And donations are pouring in to pay for laser treatment for Schoep’s arthritis.

In a piece for the Duluth News Tribune, John Lundy writes:

Unger and his then-fianceé found the dog 18 years ago at a humane society in Ozaukee County, Wis., when it was an 8-month-old puppy.

“We knew we wanted to work with an animal who was abused,” Unger said. “I just had a vision of working with an animal to bring out his full potential.”

Testing suggested that the dog had been beaten by a male, and it took Unger another eight months to fully earn his trust.

The relationship with his fianceé didn’t work out. They shared custody of Schoep for a while, but he has been Unger’s full time since his former fianceé moved to Colorado 13 or 14 years ago.

But the breakup with his fianceé caused Unger to enter a depression. One night, he said, he went to a breakwater in Lake Michigan off Milwaukee with thoughts of suicide.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me (that night). He just snapped me out of it. I don’t know how to explain it. He just snapped me out of it. … I just want to do whatever I can for this dog because he basically saved my ass.”