The story of John Unger and his arthritic dog Schoep brought tears to my eyes the first time I read about it. I'm sure you all remember photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson's now famous photo of Unger lovingly holding his floating 19-year-old dog Schoep in Lake Superior after it went viral back in August. This act of loving kindness by an owner who obviously will do anything to relieve his beloved dog's pain is heartwarming in a world that can be hard and cruel.
But not only is the love for his dog to be commended, but the outpouring of love from total strangers has been overwhelming, and reaffirms one's faith in humanity.
Ever since that photo was posted on the internet, Unger has a newfound celebrity status. Mail from all over the world fills his Bayfield home. The letters and gifts come from complete strangers, but in every package, he finds an instant connection because all that mail is from someone who cares about Schoep.
"It's amazing. Because we've opened up our lives, people are opening up theirs to us," said Unger.
All write about the photo that captures the commitment of an owner trying to relieve the pain of his aging pet. The water helps relieved the pressure on the dog's arthritic joints.
And the wonderful news is that Schoep seems to be getting better.
"He has a much better life. He is not in pain as much, and he's enjoying himself again," Unger said.
One of the many gifts he received was from a woman in California who shipped a Tempur-pedic bed for Schoep, which has been a Godsend.
"He's sleeping through the night, which is huge. He would get up at least four times a night," Unger said.
Unger has received other gifts including supplements and donations to Bay Area Animal Hospital, the vet who takes care of Schoep.
"One person donated three times over three days. She just kept calling, wanting to give more," said Pam Lightner, a receptionist at Bay Area Animal Hospital.
Nearly every day, for the last several weeks, the vet clinic receives correspondence from all over the world from those who aren't ready for an 18-year partnership to end.
"Without treatment it was time to say goodbye to Schoep," said Erik Haukaas, Schoep's veterinarian.
More than $10,000 has been donated. The money pays for a weekly laser therapy to stimulate old cells in Schoep's body. The cells then reproduce faster, reducing swelling and pain.
"This is the best response I've ever seen with these treatments," said Haukaas.
The treatments have made Schoep's life much more bearable, and he can now walk better than he has in a long while. But Unger still takes his doggy to Lake Superior for their special floating time together, and watching the video below brought tears to my eyes once more.
Unger believes the photo gave Schoep a longer lease on life.
"Had this not happened, he probably wouldn't be here anymore."
Once Schoep passes on, whatever money is left will go towards establishing a Schoep legacy foundation to help other sick dogs in need.
WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC