Dog pictured floating to sleep in owner's arms has died

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson / Stonehouse Photography
John Unger and his dog Schoep used to float anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature of the water and how Schoep was feeling.

Schoep, the arthritic dog who became an Internet sensation last summer when he was photographed floating peacefully in Lake Superior in his owner’s arms, has passed away.

The 20-year-old dog’s owner, John Unger, announced the death of his best friend on Facebook on Thursday evening.

“I Breathe But I Can't Catch My Breath...” Unger wrote. “Schoep passed yesterday. More information in the days ahead.”

The bond between Schoep and Unger captivated tens of thousands of animal lovers when their photo and story began circulating nearly a year ago. Last July, Unger feared that he was mere days from needing to put then-19-year-old Schoep down. In anticipation of his loss, he asked a friend to take one last photo of them together.

In loving arms: Man floats his sick dog to sleep, becomes Internet sensation

That friend, photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, met them at Lake Superior, where Unger liked to help Schoep float to take pressure off his arthritic joints. She captured a photo of the two of them in the lake and posted it on her Facebook page on Aug. 1.

That image ricocheted around the world and resulted in an outpouring of online donations and support. The help Unger received allowed him to afford treatments to alleviate his dog’s condition.

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson / Stonehouse Photography
John Unger always wanted Schoep to experience everything, so he brought him everywhere he went. They regularly took three walks a day.

“As best as I can guess, the treatments have turned back the clock on his life about a year-and-a-half to two years,” Unger told TODAY.com in September 2012. “I’ve taken him for walks on trails that we haven’t been on in three years. He’s not dragging his back legs like he was before. To be able to do that again with him, words can’t even describe the feeling.”

Happy tail: How the Internet changed 'floating dog's' life

Just this Monday, Unger posted a happy update about Schoep on Facebook along with a photo of the shepherd mix falling asleep in the sunshine, surrounded by bright yellow flowers:

“A fantastic day we had. Up early to walk and go to the beach, eat, nap, go shopping, eat, laundry, go to the beach, eat, nap and one more walk. All without the humidity, that’s what made it fantastic — especially for Schoep!”

'No dog should die alone': Photographer promotes senior pet adoption

Stonehouse Hudson, the photographer who made Schoep and Unger famous, posted this on her Facebook page on Thursday night:

“RIP Schoep. He had an amazing life and touched us all. Please keep John in your thoughts.”

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    A Los Angeles animal photographer is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. See images from her "My Old Dog" project here.

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    Los Angeles animal photographer Lori Fusaro is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. Alarmed by how many senior dogs languish in shelters because no one wants them, Fusaro launched a photography project to show how much older dogs have to offer. Here are photos from the project, which led to a book called "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts":

    “Fiona was a 15-year-old stray at the West Valley Animal Shelter (in Los Angeles),” Fusaro said. “She couldn't walk and she had to be carted around in a red wagon." A volunteer with a local animal rescue group took her home thinking she would not last long, but the dog blossomed. Fiona went on to "dance around the house for treats" and enjoy scratches behind the ears, Fusaro said.

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    These closely bonded dogs lived in a backyard with no attention until they were rescued in the summer of 2012. "They have arthritis, but they are not old dogs who like to sleep all day," Fusaro said. "They play, chase cats and squirrels as best as they can, and love their walks and park time.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    “Healey was adopted as a senior,” Fusaro said. “He had the odds stacked against him: He was old, a pit bull and blind. His mama couldn't bear the thought of him dying in the shelter and so she adopted him. He loves to go on walks and sniffs every inch of grass. He loves his doggy brothers and sisters and especially his human daddy. They are inseparable.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    “Lady was found at the shelter as a senior,” Fusaro said. “She was sweet as pie and her foster mama decided on the spot to bring her home. She loves her human friends and dog friends too. Her favorite pastime is rolling in the grass and belly rubs.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Rosie -

    “Rosie is an 11-year-old English bulldog,” Fusaro said. “Tennis balls are her favorite toy to play with and tease you with. She will dare you to take it from her. She also likes to take the pillows off the bed or clothes that are at her reach until you give her a goldfish cracker. Her hips are wobbly, but she will still run and play.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    “Sparky has lived with her family her whole life,” Fusaro said. “She is the neighborhood dog welcoming committee. All the new dogs become her very best friend. She loves to go on long hikes with her human family.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Stella -

    “Stella was adopted from the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA in Virginia,” Fusaro said. “She was abandoned right before the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, when her owner moved and decided to leave her behind. Her new daddy saw her picture on a website and decided he needed to meet her. It was love at first sight.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Sunny is the senior dog who started it all for Lori Fusaro. Sunny was left at a Los Angeles shelter at age 16 with cancer and infected eyes. When Fusaro saw Sunny’s face in June 2012, she decided she couldn’t let the dog die alone, so she adopted her and cared for her. Sunny thrived for two and a half years in Fusaro's care. “She inspired me to use photography to show how many senior animals need homes,” Fusaro said.

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    Fusaro’s two dogs are pictured here: Sunny in front, and Gabby, who also is a senior dog. Fusaro rescued Gabby when she was 2 years old. Gabby "loves playing with her doggy friends and has a kitty boyfriend named Enzo,” Fusaro said. “Enzo grooms her every morning and sleeps with her at night.”

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography
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    “Blossom was adopted as an older dog,” Fusaro said. “For some reason, no one wanted her. She is such a character! She has such great expressions, she dances for you as she awaits a treat, and she is loving and affectionate. She gives good doggie hugs.”

    To see more of Fusaro's photos and read more stories about happy senior dogs, check out the book "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," written by TODAY.com writer and editor Laura T. Coffey.

    Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography / Copyright 2013, Fusaro Photography

Connect with TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

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