Editor’s Note: In the May 2013 issue, SUCCESS spoke to Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, the photographer who shot the iconic image of Schoep, an arthritic German Shepherd, and his owner John swimming together—dog’s head resting on owner’s chest. John Unger announced this week Schoep passed away at the age of 20. Read the story behind this stunning photograph that went viral worldwide.
Maybe you recognize the photo of a man in Lake Superior, soothing the arthritis pain of his 19-year-old best friend. After all, it’s been seen by more than 5 million people in the last nine months, and changed a lot of lives, especially my own.
I have had a camera basically my whole life, and my subjects were always my dogs. So it wasn’t all that surprising when, as my business grew in Minnesota and Wisconsin, most Stonehouse Photography clients were dog people. But my photo of man and his best friend in the water—well, that was a whirlwind I could never expect.
I met John Unger seven years ago, when he was walking down the street with his rescue dog, Schoep. We started talking and just sort of came to know each other over time.
For 19 years, it’s just been John and his dog. I saw Schoep age, and knew he had developed a very bad case of arthritis. Nightly, when it was warm enough, John and Schoep would get into Lake Superior together. The water was the only thing that gave the dog relief and allowed him to fall asleep. The time had come to consider putting Schoep down when I saw the two of them walking last July 31, and realized the sense of urgency at that point.
I met them at 7 p.m., took about three minutes and got the photo.
I shared the photo of Schoep and John on the Stonehouse Photography Facebook page, as I almost always do, and explained the circumstances that made it such a touching shot. The next day, while photographing a wedding, my jaw kept dropping every time I looked at my phone.
I have no way to pinpoint what made it such a hit. A lot of people had an old dog they had to put down, so there was a personal connection, but also the dog and the person are not really identifiable, so it allowed people to tell their own story. I think people took from it whatever their own feelings held.