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A single, beautiful photograph of a man cradling his dog in
Lake Superior to help ease the pup's arthritis has pulled at the heartstrings
of all those who have seen it, and now RadarOnline.com has the real story
behind the heart-breaking image that went viral.
I am so surprised at the reaction of all of this," John
Unger of Bayfield, Wisconsin told RadarOnline.com in an exclusive interview in
response to the outpouring of support for him and his loyal canine companion.
The 49-year-old farm caretaker adopted his dog, Schoep, when
he was just a puppy, but after a staggering 19 years together, the aging
shepherd mix is suffering from arthritis and has trouble sleeping, so the
inseparable pair head to nearby Lake Superior so he can be lulled to sleep by
"I knew the water relieved the pain, but didn’t know to
what extent it was helping at first. It takes all the pressure off the joints
and he is just floating there and doesn’t have any body weight," explained
"He immediately just zones out and is asleep as soon as
he puts his head against my chest. I hold him with my right arm and then I will
splash water on him and massage his joints – his feet, his shoulders, and his
hips if I can. I have had him out there for over an hour but it is usually
about 20 minutes."
The extra mile that Unger goes to for Schoep may surprise
some people, but the devoted dog owner told Radar that he owes his life to the
pup who brought him back from the brink when he had dark thoughts of suicide.
"After a break-up with my then fiancee, I was going
through a really bad time. I went down to the break water in Milwaukee at the
marina, which is made of up of big boulders," he confessed. "I was
thinking of ending my life, I had Schoep with me and we were down there quite a
while. I decided it was time to do this, I was going to head dive into the
But one last look at his adopted pet made John rethink his
"When I was really at that moment to jump, he looked up
at me with a look I’ve not seen since or before," explained Unger.
"It was a look of concern, his eyes were squinted and his brow was
scrunched, like a human does when they try to think really hard. It was quite
"It snapped me back to realty and made me think, 'I
shouldn’t be doing this... Who was going to care for this dog if I do this?’
"I had just rescued him a year before and I was not
going to abandon him again by killing myself. He snapped me out of the frame of
mind I was in."
The brush with death brought John and Schoep even closer
together than before. "Everything had new and more meaning for us in every
day. I made the commitment when I rescued him that I was doing it for life and
to take care of him and I'm sticking to it."
The now-iconic photo of the inseparable pair was taken by
close friend and photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, owner of Stonehouse
Photography. "I wanted to give him something to remember Schoep by after
he has gone," she explained to Radar, and she has been blown away by the
response. "This is beyond anything that I imagined. I knew he had been
taking him out to the lake and I was just going out as a friend as a
Stonehouse Hudson said she believes the secret to the
picture's universal appeal is its simplicity and the love that pours from it.
"People can take whatever they needed from that photo and then and apply
it their own lives," she explained. "It goes with any feeling of
love, it’s not just about dogs, it's about a spouse someone has lost or a
friend or a bad time they went through."
As for Schoep, "He is doing great! I think he feels
really good. He is not sick and he is not dying, he is just an old dog and has
arthritis," she said.
"He’s still really active, we do three walks a day and
we swim as much as we can," Unger went on to say. "I take him to the
berry farm and let him just be a dog when I can."
The pair is heading for their fourth laser treatment on
Tuesday to ease the pain in the elderly shepherd's joints and donations have
now been pouring in to help pay for his laser treatments to combat his
arthritis. Prints can be bought at LakeSuperiorCards.com, and a portion of the
proceeds will go towards vet bills.