Four thousand, seven hundred miles: That’s the distance that a little envelope, marked only “John and Schoep, USA,” traveled to help save a dog’s life.
From Hungary to Bayfield, Wisconsin, one little envelope summed up the global power of a man and his dog, their unconditional love and friendship, and a photograph. The envelope had a return address, but it wasn’t sent back.
Thanks to the diligence of the US Postal Service, the Hungarian envelope containing a donation to help save an elderly dog’s life made it all the way to the little town of Bayfield.
What sparked this act of generosity? The sender saw one photograph posted on Facebook.
Photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson had intended to capture the love of John Unger and his dog, Schoep, with her lens.
Instead, the photographer whose biography aptly says that she “focuses on candid and unposed moments…capturing each moment as it happens” captured the hearts of people worldwide.
And that love has turned into a foundation that is paying it forward for pets in need worldwide. Shortly before that iconic photograph was taken, John was facing the very real possibility that he would have to euthanize Schoep (pronounced “Shep”) due to mounting medical bills.
But that photograph changed everything.
“After that photograph was taken, it was like being hit over the head by a 2 by 4,” John recalled.
“It was so unexpected. I’m not really a computer guy. I received my first computer ever in February of this year. When the photo came out, Hannah put it on Facebook so that I could see it. It’s everything and more than what I ever wanted in a photograph.”
And the world agreed that the photograph was powerful beyond words, compelling thousands of people to donate to save the sweet senior dog.
“Hannah said, ‘Do you realize what’s happening? The photo is going viral.’ I had to ask her what that meant. The photo was in Norway the very next day. I was getting friend requests on Facebook from Norway. It was astounding. I was in shock,” John recalled.
“I live in the woods to get away from the big city. I live on a property where I can do that. All of this attention was shocking, but in a good way. People are interested in the actual story.”
Since that day when John was sadly considering saying goodbye to his friend, Schoep has made a complete turnaround.
“Schoep is absolutely doing fantastic, and that’s due to the donations that have come in,” John enthused.
“Those donations have helped me to get treatments for him, including laser therapy, glucosamine supplements, and a pain pill. I’m eventually going to try to give him something that’s not in pill form, but with an old dog, you can’t integrate too much into their system. Getting him off of the pain pill is going to take time.”
Thanks to the generosity of strangers worldwide, John and Schoep now have that extra time to make gradual decisions about Schoep’s treatment. John estimates that Schoep is approximately 19 years old. And he has some advice for those who are caring for older pets.
Number one: Be patient. I say that with capital letters. Think of an elderly person – a human. Think of your dog as aging like a person. They’re going to slow down, they’re going to sleep more … the advice that I can give people is that your dog isn’t less of a dog because of it.
Number two: You need to have the love for your pet.
Number three: You need to have common sense. Don’t overthink things. If you think that your dog is ailing in any way, he probably is. Get to know your dog’s mannerisms from that very first day. Learn all of these things so that when they do go into the later stages of their life, you’ll have a greater understanding of what they’re going through.
John and Schoep are very in tune with one another. As Schoep grew older, John began to see noticeable behavioral changes in his aging friend.
“Schoep has always been a people person and has always literally followed me on my heels,” he stated.
“When his vision started to go, I noticed that he would start to lean on me more. It’s a reassurance of ‘You’re still there, I know where you are…’ How would a person in this same situation react? You humanize it – that’s the best way to do it. You have to leave them the space to be the way that they are.”
After donations for this dynamic duo began to come in, laser therapy treatments helped Schoep considerably.
“Laser therapy is a muscle and joint therapy that eases pain, improves mobility, works with and without other things like pharmaceuticals and surgery,” John explained.
“It’s non-invasive. It’s a little wand that the doctor will wave over his joints and muscles. It excites the cells in the joints and muscles and reduces inflammation. Inflammation causes pain. That’s why he’s moving with more agility. He’s more energetic, he’s now sleeping through the night, and he hadn’t been doing that for the prior two years. It has been an absolute turnaround.”
Laser therapy is offered for pets throughout the world, including veterinary offices in the Seattle area.
The donations that John and Schoep have received established the Schoep’s Legacy Foundation, which is dedicated to becoming a non-profit working to improve animal and human welfare.
“The Foundation helps me give back right away – and I will be giving back to the community soon. I’ve helped Schoep’s vet, Dr. Haukass, start a spay and neuter program in the area. There’s Ashland, Wisconsin, Ironwood, Michigan, and Bayfield. This area is suppressed monetarily and they can’t afford to bring their cats in for spay and neuter. The doctor wanted to bring the pets in for spay and neuter. We helped him launch that and it’s under his name.”
And John is looking beyond his local area to pay it forward, as well.
“We have candidates that we’re looking for right now for donations. This foundation hopes to improve both human and animal welfare. If I’m lucky enough to do this the rest of my life, I will do this. I have always dreamed about working with animals in whatever way I can. This foundation will help and partner other nonprofit organizations.”
John would eventually love to help organizations such as Dog Bless You, which solely helps veterans.
“I can’t wait to start helping groups like that,” John enthused. “I know the day is coming soon!”
John is truly touched by all of the attention that he and Schoep have received, including numerous YouTube videos. When the little, simply marked envelope from Hungary arrived at his home, he was stunned.
“I mean, come on! You’ve got to be kidding me! I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s absolutely amazing,” he exclaimed.
John has continuously been interviewed, including appearances on national television and radio programs.
“I did a segment for ‘The Doctors’ on CBS several weeks ago. It aired on Monday, October 29th. I’ve also talked with Dr. Marty Goldstein – he’s on the Martha Stewart satellite radio show. I’ve been on there three times. He’s Martha’s vet. I did an online interview for Norway and for Brazil. I also did one in Canada. It really is a global thing now. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Throughout it all, John has remained humble and grateful.
“A huge thank you to everyone who is interested in this story and who are following us. Just please remember to love your pet as much as you can.”
If you would like to help John and Schoep pay it forward and help others, please click here to find out how. And if you don’t want to donate and would rather make a purchase, a portion of your proceeds will still go to the foundation.
“I just hope people can continue to do it. I hope to help for years to come, if I can. I’m in a position now where I can do some good. I have to at least try. We’re all in life together, so why not try to work together?”
One little envelope with an incomplete address traveled almost five thousand miles to reach John and Schoep – how far will their story travel to reach others who need help?
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