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Internet-famous dog Schoep dies at age 20

Schoep, who along with owner John Unger of Bayfield, Wis., was featured in an August 2012 photo that drew widespread acclaim online, is seen in June 2013 with some of the hundreds of cards wishing him well for his 20th birthday, which was June 15. Schoep died Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (Photo courtesy of John Unger)

BAYFIELD, Wis. -- 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 31,000 by mid-evening. The "Schoep and John" Facebook page has more than 164,000 likes.

Unger and Schoep, a shepherd mix, drew worldwide attention last summer because of Bayfield photographer Hannah 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 at the time was arthritic, blind and hard of hearing. Schoep celebrated his 20th birthday last month, and received more than 1,000 cards in the mail 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.