'Viral Dog' Creates Online Community in Final Year

By KBJR News 1

July 19, 2013 Updated Jul 19, 2013 at 6:18 PM CST

Bayfield, WI (NNCNOW.com)-- Bayfield's beloved viral dog passed away, drawing response from all over the Northland, and all over the world.

20-year-old Schoep and his owner John Unger have spent the last year in the spotlight after a picture of them spread like wildfire on social media, changing their lives.

The story starts on the light side.

"We always joked about needing photos of Schoep in the water with him," said photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, in Bayfield Friday.

It then, in July of 2012, takes a tragic turn for Unger, as the reality of the dog's advanced age became undeniable.

"I'm [Unger] going to have to put Schoep down very soon, he's not doing well."

But after Hudson captured the moment of Unger and his dog Schoep swimming in Lake Superior and posted it to facebook, the cause and effect of a viral photograph turns a near tragedy into a miracle for Unger and Hudson.

"The effect was huge," said Hudson. "It started this whole wonderful movement of people sharing their stories, sharing their stories about their old pets, discovering new methods of keeping their pets healthy."

"It has turned into this community of everybody helping each other in time of need," said Unger in Bayfield Friday.

An influx of donations and support for then 19-year-old Schoep allowed medical treatment, giving him another year.

"They gave us more time to be with each other and I can't put that into words," said Unger.

But, almost one-year after the picture was taken, Schoep passed away with Unger holding him, until the very end.

"It was the best, last day I could have ever wanted with him, because it was the perfect day," said Unger. "It was absolutely the perfect day."

They spent their last days in the lake that gave them the extra year and despite the pain, Unger will always remember his best friend and picture that symbolized their love.

"I'll always thank him and I'll always have him," said Unger, clutching the collar of his best friend Schoep.

Zach Vavricka

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