Well over two million people have now seen the classic picture of the man with a pony tail holding his sleeping dog. A viral hit on the Internet, the photo is an animal lover’s dream but there is much more than meets the eye. You see, it may well reflect the last time that John Unger and the dog he rescued 19 years ago – Schoep -- will ever go swimming together.
Remember that as you study the faces of John and his sound-asleep best friend. John, the caretaker of a farm near Bayside, Wis., adopted his much-beloved pet at an animal care center when he and his then-girlfriend decided they “wanted to work with an animal that was abused,” Unger said. “I just had a vision of working with an animal to bring out his full potential.”
For the first six months Shoep – named for a famous brand of the Dairy State’s best ice cream – wouldn’t have anything to do with Unger but by the time his girlfriend left him four years later to seek her heart’s desire in Colorado, Shoep was very much at his “full potential” and proved it almost immediately.
In a story that appeared in last week’s Duluth News-Tribune, John said that when his girlfriend broke off the engagement and bolted, he was devastated, the depression so great that one night he whistled up Shoep, his faithful shepherd mix, and went to a breakwater on Lake Michigan with the idea of taking his own life.
“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 (butt),” he told the News-Tribune’s John Lundy.
About a month ago John noticed that Shoep was struggling whenever he would get up and – alarmed – he sought out a veterinarian who told him his best friend had advanced arthritis. The vet gave John some anti-inflammation drugs but warned the case was devastating and – with Shoep’s age such a factor – said John may face a terrible decision if the pain accelerates. “If Shoep isn’t able to get up without pain, it will be time to put him down.”
So the 49-year-old Unger soon sought out professional photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, whose love for dogs is so great she wishes that was all that she did, and asked the photographer if she would meet him and Shoep at the lake because the dog is so soothed by the now warm-water he actually goes to sleep cradled in his master’s arms.
Hudson had no idea how moving the picture she took was until a few days later and immediately posted it on Facebook. Six hours later it had been shared over 200 times. Four days later the picture had been shared 86,000 times, “liked” 150,000 times and viewed in excess of 1.8 million times. That was over a week ago and now it is on many websites.
Hudson, who refused to charge Unger for the picture, is thrilled it has been seen by so many. “A lot of the time if I find an interesting, cool story that’s positive about animals, I’ll just do it.”
Asked what he was thinking as the photograph was being taken, Unger paused for composure before admitting, “I realized this might be the last time we’d ever go swimming together. We had been in the water about 10 minutes and after 15 minutes or so it begins to get cold. I was just savoring the moment, I guess.”
The bright side of the photograph is that Hannah has received many inquiries from females on the Upper Peninsula who … er, wonder if Unger is single because they might like to take Shoep’s place in the lake. Unger laughs about that. “Boy, it is tough to meet women up here so, who knows, that might open up a new road!”
In the meanwhile, John and Shoep will savor the last days of summer but there will always be the picture, one that has now been viewed the world over, that will serve a testament to the bond they shared one afternoon on Lake Superior.