Hannah Stonehouse Hudson only had five minutes to take a photo of her friend John Unger and his dog, Schoep, in Lake Superior last week. What she got was one of the most touching photos of the year. The picture went viral within a matter of hours, and it's easy to see why.
Schoep is a 19-year-old shepherd mix with painful arthritis. He was 8 months old when Unger rescued him and named him after a popular ice cream brand in southern Wisconsin, The dog has trouble sleeping at night, because of the arthritic pain, so Unger, who lives outside of Bayfield, Wis., started bringing Schoep into the water to soothe his bones. Every night Schoep falls asleep in Unger's arms.
Unger says it's a small price to pay for Schoep, whom he credits with saving his life after a relationship with a fiancee fell apart 18 years ago. A painful breakup had Unger thinking about suicide, and Schoep's presence helped him through one particularly tough night.
"To be honest with you, I don't think I'd be here if I didn’t have Schoep with me (that night)," Unger told the Duluth News Tribune. "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."
Stonehouse Hudson works with dogs often, and she hopes the photo can spur people to take action.
"I want people to identify with this photo, and remember a time when they felt safe, loved, and cared for," she told the Huffington Post. "Then I want them to channel those feelings and pay it forward! There is way too much negativity in this world -- maybe with this one photo we can start to change things just a tiny bit."
As it happens, Stonehouse Hudson may have helped Unger more than she could have known. Unger originally contacted Stonehouse Hudson because Schoep was in severe pain, and he was unsure if medication would prove effective. Unger wanted to make sure his moment with Schoep was captured before he would have to put Schoep down.
But the photo's release has prompted tons of donations for laser surgery for Schoep.
The photo has also had another unintentional effect. It has led to a boatload of emails to Unger from women inquiring about his relationship status. He is single and getting a kick out of the publicity.
"Boy, is it tough to meet women up here," Unger said. "So this might open up a new road."
-- Follow Robbie Levin on Twitter @RobbieLevin.