Dog in touching viral photo turns 20
The arthritic dog whose owner was pictured lulling him through the pain in a lake reached the incredible age of 20 in spite of his illness.
Owner John Unger posted a new photo of the German shepherd chowing down on a festive birthday cake in celebration.
The story of loyal dog Schoep became an international sensation when the picture of Unger wading in Lake Superior with him was viewed by millions last year.
Since then, their story has served as the inspiration for a charity called the Schoep Legacy Foundation which has raised more than $25,000 to help low-income families care for their aging dogs thanks to donations from people as far away as Saudi Arabia and Japan, all inspired by the gorgeous image.
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, Schoep has been receiving top-notch care and is wagging his tail more than ever before, allowing Mr Unger and his dog more time together.
‘Schoep is doing incredible right now,’ Mr Unger said to MailOnline. ‘The therapies that the people have donated – it’s like turning back the clock a year and a half.’
Dr Erik Haukass, Schoep’s veterinarian, said that the dog is doing very well and that they are optimistic the treatments will allow Mr Unger and Schoep many more months- with the dog’s 20th birthday clearly surpassing earlier medical predictions.
‘Without treatment, John and I were talking about euthanasia at the end of July,’ Dr Haukass said.
He was on the front line when the donations to Schoep’s care came in, shocked by their magnitude.
‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ he said. ‘We realized we had received more money than we would reasonably spend on Schoep’s care.’
Together with Mr Unger and Mrs Hudson, the three formed Schoep’s Legacy Foundation.
‘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,’ Dr Haukass said.
The $25,000 will be used in a variety of ways to help low-income families care for their animals, both in the care of older pets and the spaying and neutering of new pets.
‘It could help another 30 or 40 Schoeps,’ Dr Haukass said.
‘It’s incredible to be in a position to help others,’ Mr Unger said.
But beyond helping other animals, Mr Unger said that he’s found himself counseling people who have had to deal with a devastating loss in their lives.
Along with donations, people have been sending Mr Unger their personal stories of woe.
‘They’re going through some depression of their own. They’re very deep and emotional letters. Those are the ones that hit home a lot,’ Mr Unger said.
‘But they look at the picture that Hannah took and it helps them have a better time with it. That’s pretty extraordinary.’
Mr Unger knows first hand about love and loss.
He and his ex-fiancée adopted Schoep 19 years ago, but when the relationship ended, Mr Unger was on the brink 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,’ he said.
When Schoep was in so much pain, it is Mr Unger’s time to return the favor.
Suffering from excruciating arthritis, the animal was not sleeping through the night and could barely walk.
‘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,’ Mrs Hudson explained.
Mr Unger could not afford the costly treatments, which at $200 dollars a session, would ease Schoep’s pain.
But after Mrs Hudson’s photograph traveled across the world, thousands of dollars came pouring in.
‘We didn’t expect any of this,’ Mr Unger said. ‘Then, when the donations did start coming in for his care, they didn’t stop.’
Schoep has been getting joint laser treatments, which reduce pain and swelling while healing the animal’s limbs, as well as pain medication from the Bay Area Animal Hospital.
‘He’s walking so much faster,’ Mr Unger said. ‘His stride, his gait, is longer. It’s unbelievable.’
Dr Haukass has also seen a change in the animal.
‘He sleeps through the night. He’s interested in going for more walks during the day,’ Dr Haukass said. ‘He walks with less of a limp. His ears are standing up and his tail is wagging better.’
~ Courtesy of The Daily Mail