man floats with his dying dog
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 7, 2024 ·  4 min read

Man Floats with his 20-Year-Old Dying Dog Every Day To Ease His Pain

Dogs are amazing animals that we humans sometimes don’t deserve. They are loyal, serving, kind, and would love you till the very last breath they draw. In 2012, you might have seen a picture that made rounds in newspapers and on social media of a man holding a dying dog afloat in the water [1]. The dog was at peace, his head buried in the man’s head and his eyes closed in utter relief. The story has resurfaced again and we can’t help but send out lots of love to the pair, especially to his beloved dog who has since passed.

Schoep’s story

In 1992, John Unger from Bayfield, Wisconsin, adopted his dog Schoep as a puppy. Schoep had been abused and traumatized and it took a while before he learned to love and trust again. Speaking to Today, Unger said he sometimes got on all fours and crawled with the dying dog to make him happy and relaxed.

Unger had always battled depression and after a relationship ended, he contemplated suicide. He almost drowned himself in the lake but Schoep was his saving grace.

“I went out on the breakwater and I was thinking about committing suicide,” he said. “And I was out there for about an hour just thinking about things and it came to the point of me thinking, ‘OK, this is the time.’ And I looked down at Schoep and I don’t know what it was … he had a look like no other time he looked at me. I look back at it now and he knew something was wrong. He just snapped me out of that moment … we walked around the rest of the night until dawn.”

Unger had always loved to hang out and swim in Lake Superior, and he started floating with Schoep when the pooch was about 7 or 8. Schoep was a terrible swimmer and he hated getting in the water. 

“Whenever he got into the water he wouldn’t swim and would just put his paws on my shoulders and want to be held,” Unger recalled. “One of these times, all of a sudden, he was asleep. We’ve been doing it periodically since then.”

Many years later, the water became a source of relief and healing to the dog and thankfully, it costs nothing to swim with the ones you love.

Schoep’s heartbreaking diagnosis

In July 2012, Schoep took ill and was having difficulty moving around. Unger took him to the vets where the poor dog was diagnosed with severe arthritis and hip dysplasia, usually seen in elderly dogs. Schoep was in so much pain and the doctors said he may have to be euthanized soon. There wasn’t so much the medications could do anymore, Schoep was just too old and his condition too severe.

Water therapy has always been an excellent treatment option for arthritis patients due to decreased pressure placed on the joints [2]. Unger knew this and decided to try it with Schoep.

The warm water was like a balm to the dying dog’s joints and it helped him relax as he floated in his owner’s arms, eventually falling asleep from the relief and peace.

Unger invited his photographer friend, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson to capture the special moments in case his dog didn’t stay around for much longer. Stonehouse shared her favorite photo from the shoot on Facebook and it immediately went viral with hundreds of thousands of reactions in a few days.

Unger had a hard time adjusting to all the attention, but he was elated that his photo with Schoep had made so many people happy. 

He tearfully recalled a day he walked into the vet’s office with Schoep and found gift packages of glucosamine, tasty treats and other treatments from anonymous donors to help Schoep with joint pain. 

Unger said, “People from all over are doing this. I can’t believe it. So much has come in already in donations that I don’t have to worry about anything at the vet anymore. How do I thank them? It’s just such an amazing thing.”

Sadly, about a year later, Schoep passed away and Unger was deeply broken, but he finds solace in the fact that his dog, now resting amongst the stars, had brought so much happiness to the world.  

Keep Reading: Researchers Reveal That Losing A Dog Can Be As Hard As Losing A Loved One


  1.  “In loving arms: Man floats his sick dog to sleep, becomes Internet sensation.” Today. Jillian Eugenios. August 10, 2012.
  2. Water Therapy for Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis-Health. Andrew Cole, MD. July 12, 2010.