A chance to repay the favour

NICK BARNETT
Last updated 08:00 09/08/2012

A photographs that millions have seen in the past few days shows a man lying in lake water holding afloat his dog, whose peacefully sleeping head is tucked under its owner's chin. On its own, the photo is beautiful, but the story behind it makes it even more powerful.

Schoep and UngerAccording to the Life With Dogs website, the man is John Unger and the dog is 19-year-old Schoep. Unger takes the arthritic Schoep to the warm waters of Lake Superior, where the dog can relax and sleep - hence Schoep's blissful expression.

Unger has cared for Schoep since adopting him when the pup was eight months old.

At a later low point in his life, Unger says, Schoep snapped him out of thoughts of suicide. "I just want to do whatever I can for this dog because he basically saved my ass."

To me, this story reminds me of that dictum "A pet is for life." Adopting a pet is partly a selfish act. You think, "It'll be fun to have a dog" or "I'd love to have a cat around." You look forward to fun, companionship, exercise, stimulation, amusement, all those things that pets give people - it's a benefit for you.

And the result, the payoff, is much greater than your early hope. Your cat makes you smile every day, your dog is a miracle you can't take your eyes off. Your pet is quietly there with you when you lose your job, or fail an exam, or hear that your parent has died, or struggle through an illness. It lifts your mood when you're depressed. It gives you something to care about even when you're not taking the best care of yourself, and it gets you out into the world when you least want to but most need to. Pets are so much more than accessories or luxuries: they create happiness. Pets improve human lives, and often, as with Schoep and John Unger, they save them.

So the routines and small drudgeries of owning a pet bring a huge dividend, and I believe that creates a responsibility: at some point, you repay the favour. At some point, you do something for your pet that will ease or even save its life; you do your best to give it as many happy minutes as you can, which often includes making the very last minutes as bearable as possible. To me, that's what you sign up for when you adopt a pet. It's for life, and it's not just for you.

John Unger has lived with Schoep for 18 years, owes his life to him, and now has the opportunity, the privilege, of repaying the debt. He does it by doing something simple but, I'm sure, full of meaning for him: he takes Schoep down to the lake and floats with him, giving the old dog an escape from the pain and the chance to dream at ease in his great friend's arms.

I'm sure John Unger would say it was the least he could do.

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70 comments
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Helen   #1   08:12 am Aug 09 2012

Thanks for that story Nick - but please you need to give these a "tissues required" warning at the beginning of the story. I'm sitting here typing with tears in my eyes. It is soooooo beautiful to know that despite all the horrors in the world there are souls like John Unger who appreciate all that there loyal companion has done for them over the years. I have a truly special little friend with a very waggy tail at home who greets me joyusly everyday when I get home from work, lifting my spirits and making me realize that my day just got 1000% better for being in his presence.

Moi   #2   08:30 am Aug 09 2012

This story brought tears to my eyes. We became owners to a GOlden Retriever puppy a couple of months before our whole world fell apart (recession hit - almost lost everything). During those dark days, the dog was the only thing that got me out of bed sometimes. She was always there for me when I was sad, and I knew I had to stay here to look after her. Having to take her out walking, this got me out of the house and the physical activity helped with my depression. She is such a happy and beautiful dog that everyone wants to stop and talk - this got me interacting with people again. I would do anything for that dog as I really think she dragged me out of my depression. The cat was nice for cuddles too of course :)

Christine   #3   08:35 am Aug 09 2012

This story has tears welling up in my eyes this morning. It is so touching. I cannot agree more that pets are for life for all the reasons given. From my first dog given to me for my 7th birthday present to the two I now live with as a middle aged adult all have brought something special to my life and been there for me in good times and bad. I can only try to repay them when they need me to. Speaking of which my almost 14 year old is off to the vet this morning for her check up and to get some more arthritis medicine as age is catching up on her.

lorraine   #4   08:45 am Aug 09 2012

I agree Helen#1 - need a 'tissues rating' please Nick!. But a beautiful story, and I think that real pet owners would all do the same if they could, or needed to. I re-housed a strange old cat from friends when the cat didn't cope with a crying baby in their household. This cat is 14, would be very neurotic if she were human, but she is a critter, and just wants to be loved. So we put up with her demanding to be on our knees the moment we sit down, and try to eek out her aged days giving her the best home we can.

Sheree   #5   08:45 am Aug 09 2012

It's nice to have a reminder of whats important in life, what a beautiful story

Eva   #6   08:54 am Aug 09 2012

With my lovely dog I got to the repaying after 7 years when she developed arthritis and allergies now followed by calcification of the spine. Cooking food and finding the ingredients she's not allergic to takes time, managing her conditions takes time and money. Yet her company makes me happy as long as she is happy. Reading the story I was thinking, 18 years! I wish my dog would live that long, it is very unlikely due to her breed, but I am hoping for 14.

I always read with unbelieve the adverts of people getting rid of their pet, because 'their live has changed' or 'they are moving overseas'. When I considered moving to Europe checking on requirements to take my dog and cat was the first thing I did, I'd be more likely to not bring furniture.

Bugbear   #7   09:01 am Aug 09 2012

Geez man! Some warning, please... What a beautiful, powerful story to read on a grey, drizzly Thursday. Crying like a baby - thank god I'm at home!

Glennie   #8   09:07 am Aug 09 2012

Bless - thanks Nick for a reminder of all that is good in our world.

SJ   #9   09:19 am Aug 09 2012

A beautiful beautiful story. The picture says a thousand words of care and love. So much in our lives effect us - whether health, wealth, loss - material or other, yet every day, without fail our beloved four legged family members love and adore us no matter what. Our cat makes us laugh every day. We watch him play (he is a very kitten like 7 year old)and entertain himself and it brings a smile to our face every time. Any of the stress/angst from the outside world goes out the door. I know we would do anything for him to make his life purrrfect - why wouldnt we?

sue   #10   09:24 am Aug 09 2012

Thanks for reminding us all whats really important in our lives,the rest of the rubbish doesn't really matter, when those big brown eyes stare at you with love.


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