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Thousands mourn Schoep the dog's passing

This photo of Schoep and John Unger relaxing in Lake Superior in Bayfield last year became famous after photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson posted it on her Facebook page. (Photo by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson)

Schoep, the Bayfield dog who with his owner became an Internet celebrity last year thanks to a tender photograph of the pair in the waters of Lake Superior, died Wednesday at age 20.

The news was announced Thursday afternoon on the Facebook page for Schoep and owner John Unger.

"I breathe but I can't catch my breath. ... Schoep passed yesterday," the Facebook statement read.

There was no immediate word on the circumstances of Schoep's death.

Within 20 minutes of that posting, more than 5,900 comments replied as fans of the pair shared their condolences. That number surpassed 40,000 by late evening. The "Schoep and John" Facebook page has more than 172,000 likes.

Unger and Schoep, a shepherd mix, drew worldwide attention last summer because of Bayfield photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson's photograph of the two at rest in Lake Superior. Hudson took the photo July 30 and posted it the next evening on her Facebook page. Within four days it had 1.8 million views.

Gifts and monetary support poured in for Unger. That enabled him to get the veterinary care needed for Schoep, who was arthritic, blind and hard of hearing. Schoep celebrated his 20th birthday last month and received more than 1,000 cards from fans to celebrate the milestone.

In recent posts on Facebook, Unger had reported that this week's heat and humidity had been hard on Schoep, but as recently as Sunday and Monday the two had taken a quick dip in the lake and walked on the beach.