You might have seen this photo make the rounds on the Internet lately. It’s a moving portrait of the depths of one man’s love for his aging dog.
John Unger is the devoted guardian of Schoep, a 19-year-old shepherd mix. When John learned that his canine companion had developed severe arthritis and might not have much longer to live, John turned to water therapy to help his friend. The warm summer temperatures of Lake Superior and the weightlessness of the water were the perfect combination to help Schoep relax. Knowing that Schoep’s end might be near, John asked his photographer friend, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson of Stonehouse Photography, to snap a few photos.
Little did they know they would capture an image that so powerfully conveys the love between man and dog.
Uploading the photo Facebook, Hannah was quickly inundated with Likes and comments. “To see that this photo has lifted their spirits … that right there lifts mine even higher,” Unger said.
Unger and Schoep have a long back-story. About 20 years ago, Unger and his then-fiancee adopted Schoep — who is named after a Wisconsin ice cream brand. The formerly abused puppy made Unger work to earn his trust. But rather than give up on the dog, Unger would sometimes get down on all fours in the hopes that Schoep would “think of me as another dog and not a man trying to hurt him.” It worked.
A year after Schoep’s adoption, however, Unger and his fiancee broke up, sharing custody of the dog until she went away to graduate school. The breakup devastated Unger, who has battled a lifetime of depression. One night the pain was unbearable, and on their usual walk around Lake Michigan, John contemplated suicide. One look at Schoep snapped him out of it, and Unger recalls that Schoep “knew something was wrong.” He credits the dog with saving his life.
Schoep has been undergoing laser treatments donated by a caring woman from Virginia. At their latest visit to the vet, Unger and Schoep were met with a touching surprise. Anonymous donors had flooded the office with treats, food, supplements, and other gifts for Schoep, proving how the image of love, devotion, and peace struck a chord in the universal heart.