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'.
The story of loyal dog Schoep, from Wisconsin, became an international sensation when the picture of Unger wading in Lake Superior with him was viewed by millions last year.
Since then, their story has served as the inspiration for a charity called theSchoep 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.
Mr Unger’s photographer friend Hannah Stonehouse Hudson captured the heartbreaking moment between the man and his aging rescue dog in Wisconsin when Mr Unger realised his best friend was at the end of his life.
The moving photograph of man and dog in the water inspired strangers to donate to help the dog, which meant that Schoep received the best possible veterinary care in the last few weeks.
So much money came in, Mr Unger and Schoep’s veterinarian, Erik Haukass, decided to put the excess cash to good use.
Dr Haukass said: ‘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.
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.
Mr Unger also said that he’d 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 said he credited his dog with getting him through a difficult period of his life.
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 last month.
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.'
adoptpets: Rest in peace Schoep. He had a good long life with a great owner. None of this would have happened had John and his then fiance had decided to buy a dog rather than adopt 20 years ago. Had that been the case, Schoep might have never been adopted & his life might have been a short one where he only knew of the abuse of his previous owner. Don’t shop—adopt!
Watch John & Schoep promote animal adoption: