'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 (2023)

  • John Unger adopted Schoep from a Wisconsin animal shelter 19 years ago with ex-fiancée
  • After their break-up, Mr Unger contemplated suicide but Schoep brought him back from the brink
  • 'I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me,' Mr Unger said
  • Two weeks ago, Schoep's arthritis got so bad the veterinarian said it might be the end
  • Friend Hannah Stonehouse Hudson snapped what might have been a final portrait of the pair
  • Thanks to the donations of strangers, Schoep has more time with his best friend

By Emily Anne Epstein

Published: | Updated:

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The man pictured lulling his arthritic dog to sleep in Lake Superior has revealed that his dog Schoep saved him from the brink of suicide.

John Unger, 49, adopted the dog with his ex-fiancée 19 years ago, but after the relationship ended, Mr Unger fought a desperate despair.

The companionship of his trusty rescue dog gave Mr Unger the courage to go on, saying : 'I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me. I just want to do whatever I can for this dog.'

The water soothes the animal's pain, Mr Unger said, allowing him to sleep.

Mr Unger's good friend Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, who is a professional photographer, captured the heartbreaking moment between the man and his aging rescue dog in Wisconsin when Mr Unger thought his best friend was at the end of his life.

But thanks to the generosity of strangers, the MailOnline can reveal that thousands of dollars have been donated to Schoep's medical care, allowing the pair more time together than they ever imagined.

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'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 (1)

True love: John Unger, 49, lulls his 19-year-old dog Schoep to sleep because it helps ease the dog's arthritis

‘Schoep falls asleep every night when he is carried into the lake. The buoyancy of the water soothes his arthritic bones. Lake Superior is very warm right now, so the temp of the water is perfect,' the photographer explained.

The story behind the special relationship behind this man, who works as a caretaker on a farm outside of Bayfield, and his dog is just as touching as the moment on the Lake.

Mr Unger, 49, adopted Schoep, who is named after a famous brand of Wisconsin ice cream, when he was just a puppy and it was love at first sight.

He and his ex-fiancée had been searching for a rescue dog for a year, going to dozens of humane societies.

'We wanted every single dog,' Mr Unger said to the MailOnline. 'We just hadn't found the right one.'

His then-fiancée they spotted the pup at the Ozaukee Animal Shelter 19 years ago.

'We fell in love with her immediately,' Mr Unger told the MailOnline.

Schoep was in a cage with another dog, possibly his mother, crouched in the back quietly staring at the corner with his back to Mr Unger.

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'I knew - that's him,' Mr Unger said.

'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 (2)

Couple: John Unger, 49, adopted the dog with his ex-fiancée 19 years ago, but after the relationship ended, Mr Unger fought a desperate despair

'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 (3)

'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 (4)

Saved: The companionship of his trusty rescue dog gave Mr Unger the courage to go on, saying : 'I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me. I just want to do whatever I can for this dog'

'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 (5)

Together: Thanks to the generosity of strangers, the MailOnline can reveal that thousands of dollars have been donated to Schoep's medical care, allowing the pair more time together than they ever imagined

At the time Schoep was named Tramp by the shelter staff and showed signs of abuse.

'He didn't even know what toys were,' Mr Unger said. 'I really wanted this dog because I wanted him to enjoy life.'

The couple worked hard to establish the trust of the dog and eventually brought out its 'full potential'.

Though Mr Unger's relationship with Schoep has clearly stood the test of time, the relationship with his fiancée did not, and when the woman moved to Colorado over a decade ago, he retained custody of the dog.

'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 (6)

Capturing the moment: Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is friends with Mr Unger and spent hours capturing the perfect shot though she says it came naturally and was not posed

Lucky that he did, considering he told the Deluth News Tribune that one night, while in the depths of depression in the wake of the breakup, Mr Unger contemplated 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,' he said.

Now that Schoep is in pain with his arthritis, it is Mr Unger's time to return the favor.

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'In this photo, people have said they see everything from pure love to hope for the world. They see peace, kindness, the relationship between man and dog,' Ms Stonehouse Hudson told The Pioneer Press.

'Two women, both whose husbands died from cancer, said they never thought they'd see love again, but this photo showed them love.

'People are leaving me messages, crying and opening up about dogs they've lost, spouses they've lost.'

Mr Unger told the MailOnline that the photograph was four years in the making, as Ms Hudson and Mr Unger couldn't find the time for a portrait session.

But recently, Mr Unger got some devastating news.

'To be honest with you, I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me.'

John Unger

'About two weeks ago I took Schoep in for a check up because he was limping,' Mr Unger said.

The doctor recommend pain medication, but said that it may be temporary or not help at all.

Then, Mr Unger said, the doctor told him, ' "If there isn't any improvement, we should probably..." a good vet wont say "put him down," but he said at that point I may start to want to think about it.'

Faced with the possibility of losing his best friend, he called up Ms Hudson for an impromptu session.

She met the pair at sunset on Lake Superior, because Schoep's cataracts prevent him from seeing in sunlight.

'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 (7)

Compassion: Mr Unger adopted Schoep, who is named after a famous brand of Wisconsin ice cream, when he was just a puppy, and now that the dog has developed arthritis, he has trouble getting to sleep

'She couldn't believe he fell asleep in my arms,' Mr Unger said.

Ms Hudson watched the man and his dog float around the lake for maybe five minutes before Schoep began to get cold and shake.

Mr Unger said he had to take him out of the water to let him warm up and was worried she hadn't had the chance to snap an image.

AT FIRST SIGHT: JOHN AND SCHOEP

John Unger, 49, adopted Schoep, who is named after a famous brand of Wisconsin ice cream, when he was just a puppy and it was love at first sight.

He and his ex-fiancée had been searching for a rescue dog for a year, going to dozens of humane societies.

'We wanted every single dog,' Mr Unger said to the MailOnline. 'We just hadn't found the right one.'

His then-fiancée they spotted the pup at the Ozaukee Animal Shelter 19 years ago.

'We fell in love with her immediately,' Mr Unger told the MailOnline.

Schoep was in a cage with another dog, possibly his mother, crouched in the back quietly staring at the corner with his back to Mr Unger.

'I knew - that's him,' Mr Unger said.

At the time Schoep was named Tramp by the shelter staff and showed signs of abuse.

'He didn't even know what toys were,' Mr Unger said. 'I really wanted this dog because I wanted him to enjoy life.'

The couple worked hard to establish the trust of the dog and eventually brought out its 'full potential'.

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'I didn't think she even took one picture,' he said. 'But then she told me she got what she wanted.'

Mr Unger doesn't know how his ex-fiancée feels about the image going viral, or that it might be time to say goodbye to Schoep, but he is hoping that his love for Schoep might open the door to more romance.

'Women are also asking me if John is single!' Ms Hudson said.

The ladies are in luck because not only is Mr Unger single, but he is looking for a relationship.

'Boy, is it tough to meet women up here,' he told The Deluth News Tribune.

'So this might open up a new road.'

Mr Unger, who does not have a cell phone, said that while he got his first computer in February and is still confused by the internet, he has begun to explore online dating.

The most exciting thing to come out of the photograph, however, is the generous donations that people who have been touched by the photograph have been offering.

'A woman from Virginia basically paid for the latest laser therapy on his joints,' he said to MSNBC. 'She paid for a full treatment, and I don’t know how much it is, but I know I couldn’t have done that.'

He wept as he described how much strangers' kindness has helped him and his best friend.

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'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.'

He said that Schoep has already had two treatments and will get his third this afternoon.

'I have seen improvements in Schoep's ability to walk,' he told the MailOnline. 'He's walking faster. He's holding his head higher.'

'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 (8)

Healing: Since the funds came gushing in, the clinic was able to treat Schoep with joint laser treatments, which reduce pain and swelling while healing the animal's limbs

'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 (9)

All Better: Schoep will need these treatments every few weeks 'forever,' the vet said, but he should be able to spend his golden years pain-free

A spokeswoman from the clinic told the MailOnline that 19 people have made considerable donations to Schoep, amounting to nearly two thousand dollars in funds to help pay for his treatment.

Schoep's veterinarian, Erik Haukaas, said he was 'overwhelmed' by the generosity of strangers.

'John is a great guy but he doesn't have a whole lot of money. He does the best can to care for the dog,' Dr Haukass told the MailOnline.

He said that before the donations, all Mr Unger could afford was basic pain medication for his dog.

'He's failing. He's slowing down. Most dogs don't live near this long,' he said.

'And then the picture came out and everyone wants to help.'

'Schoep is doing very well. I don't think John has to worry about Schoep for quite a while.'
Veterinarian Erik Haukass

Since the funds came gushing in, the clinic was able to treat Schoep with joint laser treatments, which reduce pain and swelling while healing the animal's limbs.

Each session costs $200.

'It's like putting oil on a rusty joint,' he explained.

Schoep will need these treatments every few weeks 'forever,' the vet said, but he should be able to spend his golden years pain-free.

'Schoep is doing very well. I don't think John has to worry about Schoep for quite a while,' he said.

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People interested in helping can call the Bay Area Animal Hospital at 715-682-8865 with a credit card number or mail a check to 3601 E Hwy 2 Ashland, WI 54806.

All donations go right into Schoep's account at the clinic.

FAQs

What is the famous line of dog? ›

"Happiness is a warm puppy." "Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail." "Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."

Why are dogs so loyal to their owners? ›

There is a scientific basis for this: domestic dogs are descended from wolves, which man once took in and tamed with shelter and food in return for them acting as guard dogs. This reciprocal relationship remains in your dog's genes and their loyalty is a by-product of it.

Are dogs only loyal to one person? ›

While some dogs choose a single person to latch onto emotionally, some dogs love social experiences with humans and have big groups of humans they're friendly with. Bonding time with a range of people aside from the primary caregiver can be great for socializing dogs and stimulating their brains.

What is the saying about dogs and their owners? ›

The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.” “No animal I know of can consistently be more of a friend and companion than a dog.” “Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” “If I could be half the person my dog is, I'd be twice the human I am.”

What Jesus said about dogs? ›

Revelation 22:15: “For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Philippians 3:2: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.”

Do dogs really care about their owners? ›

Science proves that part of the canine brain is associated with positive emotions and they do, indeed, feel love for their human companions.

How can you tell if your dog really loves you? ›

Your dog might jump on you, lick your face, and they'll definitely wag their tail. Being excited and happy to see you is one way you can be assured they love and miss you. They seek physical contact. This can come in the form of a quick nuzzle, a cuddle, or the famous lean.

Do dogs actually love their owners? ›

We humans do perceive certain dog behaviors as loving—tail-wagging, cuddling—but actual scientists using fMRI machines have detected a real bond between dogs and their human companions. So worry not, dog owners. You probably aren't in a one-sided relationship.

Do dogs feel love when you kiss them? ›

According to Animal Behaviorists, 'dogs don't understand human kisses the same way that humans do. ' When kissing a young puppy, you may not notice any signs of recognition at all because they have yet to associate kisses with affection.

Do dogs know you will come back? ›

If you come back home at the same time every day, your dog can anticipate when you're about to walk through the door based on how much of your scent is still present. They may also be able to determine when it's time to eat based on the amount of daylight that they see through the window.

Who does the dog love more? ›

But most dogs tend to bond to the person who gives them the most attention. For example, in a family with two parents and two kids, the dog may favor the parent who fills their bowl every morning and takes them for a walk every evening. In addition, physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and person.

Why do dogs lick you? ›

Licking is a natural and instinctive behaviour to dogs. For them it's a way of grooming, bonding, and expressing themselves. Your dog may lick you to say they love you, to get your attention, to help soothe themselves if they're stressed, to show empathy or because you taste good to them!

How do I say I love my dog? ›

7 Ways to Say 'I Love You' to Your Pet In Their Language
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  2. Make Eye Contact. Photo via Unsplash: Tadeusz Lakota. ...
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  5. Walk Together. ...
  6. Talk Out Loud.
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What does a dog symbolize in the Bible? ›

The Egyptian god Anubis had a canine head, and this may be one reason why dogs in the Bible are never mentioned in a good light. Pigs were unclean, both ritually and as food (Lev 11:7), but dogs were the embodiment of gluttony, scavengers sent by God to tear and devour.

Are dogs a gift from God? ›

I was gently reminded that pets, and creation around us, are a gift from God. Animals are creatures that remind us of His goodness, His mercy, His grace, and His joy.

Do pets go to heaven? ›

The scriptures I use make it clear that animals not only go to heaven when they die, but they will also be resurrected with us. However, they will have a much lesser glory than the sons of God. 1Corinthians 15:39-42 and Romans 8:19-23.

What is the best caption for a picture? ›

Cute Selfie Captions
  • “If you were looking for a sign, here it is.”
  • “Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.”
  • “Just because you're awake doesn't mean you should stop dreaming.”
  • “Be yourself, there's no one better.”
  • “Stress less and enjoy the best.”
  • “Look for the magic in every moment.”
7 Jan 2022

What is a lover of dogs called? ›

🐶 Dog lovers on the other hand are called Cynophiles or dogophiles!

What's the saying about dog? ›

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” “Hounds follow those who feed them.” “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” “Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end.”

What dog is cute quotes? ›

Cute Dog Quotes
  • “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” – ...
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  • “When the dog looks at you, the dog is not thinking what kind of a person you are.
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What does dog say in English? ›

Dog – bark, woof, ruff, bow wow. Cat – meow. Cow – moo. Horse – neigh.

Do dogs love their owners? ›

Science proves that part of the canine brain is associated with positive emotions and they do, indeed, feel love for their human companions.

How do I say I love my dog? ›

7 Ways to Say 'I Love You' to Your Pet In Their Language
  1. Listen to Your Pet. Photo via Tam S. ...
  2. Make Eye Contact. Photo via Unsplash: Tadeusz Lakota. ...
  3. Open Your Resting Space. Another form of expression that should be a no-brainer is physical expression. ...
  4. Let Your Pet Lean on You. ...
  5. Walk Together. ...
  6. Talk Out Loud.
15 Feb 2019

Do dogs love unconditionally? ›

Just like every other living, breathing being, dogs have needs and they will give their loyalty and affection to whomever fulfills those needs. In basic terms, our dogs do love us because we provide for them. This is the same reason that in the wild, dogs will remain with their pack.

Will dogs go to heaven? ›

While religious views around the world vary, Christianity has traditionally held that animals have no hope of an afterlife. But Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are”.

How do you announce the death of a dog? ›

If you're not sure how to announce the death of your pet, posting an obituary and sharing it with loved ones is a quick and easy route to go. Simply write out the obituary, post some photos, and share the online obituary of your pet with your friends and family.

What do dogs like most? ›

We all know that dogs love to play, be petted, eat all day, sleep and run on the beach. However, dogs have certain preferences and behaviors they enjoy that humans do not yet know about and are very specific to dogs. Dogs have many activities that make them happy and enjoy doing.

How do you inspire a girl? ›

How to Encourage Girls to Go After Their Dreams
  1. Be a listening ear. ...
  2. Stay open-minded. ...
  3. Help her set attainable goals. ...
  4. Take action. ...
  5. Encourage her to visualize her goals. ...
  6. Reinforce the importance of positive life skills, such as hard work, persistence, a positive attitude, and responsibility.
  7. Be realistic about challenges.
10 Oct 2018

Why is my dog moaning? ›

Dogs communicate pleasure, happiness, excitement, and affiliation through their vocalizations. The most common sounds of pleasure are moans and sighs, although dogs also use whines and growls to communicate happiness. Low-pitched moans are very common in puppies and are signs of contentment.

How do dogs bark in Russian? ›

Russian – gav, gav (гав-гав); tyav, tyav (тяв-тяв, small dogs) Serbian – av, av. Sinhala – සිංහල – buh, buh. Slovak – haf, haf; hau, hau.

How does a dog bark? ›

Woof is the most common onomatopoeia in the English language for this sound, especially for large dogs. "Bark" is also a verb that describes the sound of many canids.

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