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John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune, Published August 12 2012

Donations roll in for Web sensation Schoep the dog

DULUTH, Minn. - It says something about the joyous frenzy that has arisen around John Unger and his dog, Schoep, this week that Unger and photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson have had to bring in a public relations agent.

“My phone is ringing off the hook,” Hudson said during a phone interview on Thursday from the Upper Peninsula, where she was heading for an assignment. “I have 500 unanswered e-mails at this point.”

Hudson took the shot seen around the world — Unger holding the blissfully slumbering Schoep, his 19-year-old shepherd mix, in the waters of Lake Superior — on July 31 and posted it on her Facebook page on Aug. 1. By Sunday, it had gotten 1.8 million views; the last she checked it was close to 3 million.

The News Tribune’s story about the picture, which appeared Monday, was only the beginning of a flurry of media attention. Among other outlets, their story has been on the Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, the “Today” show’s blog, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, City Pages in Minneapolis and “a bunch of Croatian TV stations and newspapers,” said Hudson, whose home base is Bayfield.

Unger said he has heard from people in Hungary, Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Australia, New Zealand and “places I had to look up because I had no idea where they were.”

The unassuming Unger had been interviewed by Duluth and Minneapolis TV stations on Thursday. “It’s generally I’m taking care of the stuff up here and she’s doing the nationals,” Unger said of Hudson. Then he laughed at what he’d just said. “That’s just bizarre.”

Helping Unger and Hudson manage the attention and demands on their time is Julie McGarvie Unger, John Unger’s sister-in-law, who has a career in public relations.

“It’s nothing but interviews now, where before it was nothing but berries,” said John Unger, who is a caretaker on the fruit farm outside of Bayfield where he lives. “That’s all I had to think about before was berries.”

Lest all of this sounds like an unwelcome burden for a small-town professional photographer and a middle-aged bachelor-farmer, neither has any complaints.

“It’s so much fun,” Unger said. “Still, I haven’t slept much. I’m not eating well. The dishes are still in the sink, undone. But Schoep is fantastic. … It’s all fantastic.”

Said Hudson, a former insurance agent: “I’ve discovered that these random skills that I have are all coming to fruition. They are all useful right now. And that’s why I’m not stressed out. I’m enjoying this.”

Besides, Schoep is benefitting from all of the attention. A couple of weeks ago, Unger had taken his dog to Bay Area Animal Hospital in Ashland. He got pain medication for Schoep but couldn’t afford more extensive treatment. But after learning about the dog’s story, anonymous donors made it possible for Schoep to get the supplement glucosamine along with laser treatments to treat his arthritis.

“John is a great guy, but he just doesn’t have any money,” said the veterinarian, Dr. Erik Haukaas. “Schoep is a great dog and everybody has responded to this, and we have received a number of donations. So we are now able to do everything possible for the dog.”

The glucosamine “gets oil into the rusty hinges,” Haukaas said, but won’t take effect for a few weeks.

The laser treatment, in use for dogs for a couple of years, involves passing a wand across the dog’s limbs as it lies on a mat. “Many of the times when we’re doing the treatment, the dogs fall asleep,” Haukaas said. “It probably feels like a bit of a massage.”

Glucosamine costs about $70 a month, Haukaas said. The six initial laser treatments, which take place over three weeks, cost between $200 and $300. Schoep probably will need ongoing treatment, Haukaas said, although the frequency will depend on how he responds to the first set.

But donations keep coming in. “We got a call from London this morning,” Haukaas said.

Hudson and Unger also stand to benefit financially. The print is for sale online in a variety of formats, and they will split the proceeds 50-50. Hudson said she hopes to use her share of whatever money results to fulfill “a dream of mine,” but wouldn’t say exactly what that dream is. “It involves dogs and it involves photography.”

Unger simply wants to pay off some bills and pay back some loans. “I’ve had to borrow money at times,” he said. “The generous people from this community have helped me with a loan here and there when I’ve needed it.”

For all the changes, the one thing that can’t change is that Schoep is an old dog with degenerative arthritis.

“What we are trying to do is give him quality of life,” Haukaas said. “I can’t expect that we’re going to extend his life. He’s already an incredibly old dog. But the time that he has with us we want to make him as comfortable as possible.”

Unger said the pain medicine alone seems to have made Schoep perkier. He’s realistic about his dog’s future but thankful for whatever he can get.

“What I initially thought when I asked Hannah to do the photograph I thought possibly it might only be a couple of more weeks,” he said. “But with the treatment, with the pain medicine, with the supplements, now it’s going to be longer for sure.”