Skip to content

New Lease on Life

October 6, 2012

New Lease on Life

By Emily Anne Epstein, New York Times – September 25, 2012

The stunning photograph of a man lulling his arthritic dog to sleep in Lake Superior has touched so many people that John Unger, 49, and his dog Schoep, 19, have started a foundation to help other dogs in need.

The Schoep Legacy Foundation 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 19-year-old dog is doing very well and that they are optimistic the treatments will allow Mr Unger and Schoep many more months.

‘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.

All Better

All Better: The $25,000 will be used in a variety of ways to help low-income families care for their animals

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.’

Background stories:


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’.


‘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 Mrs Hudson for an impromptu session.

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

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

Mrs 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.

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



One Comment leave one →
  1. October 6, 2012 6:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Ascension to 5D and Beyond.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: