John Unger, the Wisconsin man behind the 2012 viral photo in which he is shown embracing his old arthritic dog in the waters of Lake Superior, has adopted a new dog named Bear. Unger announced he has finally adopted a new dog in a post to his Facebook page on Tuesday, February 24.
The photograph that showed Unger cradling his old dog Schoep in water was snapped by photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson. It captured a special moment of tenderness between dog and man and went viral as soon as it surfaced online. The two became instant internet celebrities.
The display of devotion touched the hearts of millions who read the story of Schoep’s travails in his old age and his owner’s personal sacrifices for the comfort of a loyal companion. Millions saw the photo showing Unger cradling his dog in the waters of Lake Superior as a symbol of the special bond that earned dogs the title of “man’s best friend.”
Unger reportedly entered the water holding Schoep to help relieve the old dog’s arthritis. Schoep loved water, but when he became old, his joints became so weak and painful that he was unable to swim and walk. So Unger would carry him into the water and hold him to his chest for long hours, allowing Schoep to relax in his arms and even fall asleep.
The two were best friends until the end.
Schoep was only 8-months-old when Unger adopted him. Unger was battling depression following a painful breakup at the time he met Schoep. Schoep had suffered abuse in his former home and had grown to distrust humans. But the two, in need of companionship, soon developed a bond.
Unger still says that Schoep’s friendship saved him from depression.
“He saved me that night and I could only do my very best for him after that.”
Schoep died in 2013, soon after Unger celebrated his 20th birthday.
Unger told USA Today, “It was really tough after Schoep left and didn’t know what to do with my time.”
Unger found it hard to move on for several months after Scheop died, although he knew that the right thing to do was to begin searching for a new dog.
He said, “It was re-learning how to live and once I learned that and once I got through the toughness of his love that’s when I started searching again.”
But he finally found the new friend he was looking for among dogs in need of a new home at Northwoods Humane Society. According to Kim Molitor, who works at the shelter, Bear was finding it difficult to find a new home, probably because he was an older dog.
Molitor said that when Unger walked in, he thought, “I was like cool. He’s like a surfer dude from California. He’s going to get along with all the dogs.”
Molitor had no idea who Unger was until a colleague recognized the name.
“I got chills. I couldn’t’ believe it. He’s in the water with the dog and it was beautiful.”
They arranged for Unger to meet Bear and the two were given time to get to know each other.
“It was just unison. It was just you know, in love from the moment they said hello to each other.”
On February 24, about a year and a half after Schoep died, Unger posted a message to his Facebook page, saying, “I am whole again…”
The message immediately received more than 72,000 Facebook likes.
While thousands of Unger’s fans would understand that no dog could ever replace Schoep, they will also understand from common human experience that it is always possible to love again.
[Image: Stonehouse Photo, via Huffington Post]