Photo courtesy: KARE-TV / Hannah Stonehouse Hudson/ StonehousePhoto.com
(KARE-TV - BAYFIELD, Wis.) - A Wisconsin dog that captured the hearts of millions has passed away.
Schoep, the Bayfield, Wisconsin dog and his owner John Unger became internet celebrities last year because of a photograph of the two in the waters of Lake Superior.
Schoep was 20-years-old. Arthritis and hip dysplasia had settled into his joints. Unger often took Schoep into the lake as a way to provide comfort. Sensing the end was near, Unger asked a photographer friend to capture their time together in the water.
Unger and Schoep's 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.
(KARE-TV - BAYFIELD, Wis.) They say dogs are man's best friend. John Unger and Schoep are proof of that.
Their friendship started when Unger adopted Schoep from a shelter as a puppy 19 years ago. It turns out Schoep wasn't the only one who needed to be rescued.
"He's been my guardian for a number of years," Unger said.
Time has given them memories, but it has also taken a toll on Schoep's body.
"This joint right here kind of freezes up," Unger said pointing to Schoep's hind leg.
Arthritis and hip dysplasia have settled into Schoep's joints. The only comfort now is a routine that keeps Schoep off his feet. Unger takes Schoep out into Lake Superior for a dip as often as they can.
Unger gently places his arm under Schoep as they float together in the water. With no pressure on his body Schoep quickly falls asleep in Unger's arms. Schoep's eyes close as his head rests on Unger's chest. Sometimes they stay that way for hours.
"This is living," Unger said as they floated in Lake Superior Thursday evening. Unger is careful with every minute. He's not sure how much longer Schoep will be around.
He wanted just one picture of them in the water to capture their friendship. He asked Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, owner of Stonehouse Photo in Bayfield, to take a few pictures.
She posted one picture of Unger and Schoep on Facebook, and it went viral within a few hours. It has now been viewed more than 2 million times.
Unger said he is overwhelmed by all the attention. He just wanted to capture one moment with his best friend; instead he captured the world.