Dog found treading water in Tampa Bay has new owner, new name

Her owner never surfaces, so a new family opens its home to her.
Published January 6 2014
Updated January 7 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The happy reunion for Baby, the dog that was found bobbing in the bay, and her owner isn't in the future.

But she will get a new beginning and a new name, thanks to a good Samaritan who stepped into her life.

Kathy Klein had read about Baby being found 2 miles offshore in Tampa Bay, picked up by a fisherman and returned to land. She read about how the dog must have been treading water all night before being found, and how the dog shivered through the night once she was taken in on another boat. And Klein knew what she needed to do.

On the way home from dinner with her son Saturday night, Klein told her husband she needed to stop by the Home Depot for a moment. She emerged with a dog bed, a dog blanket and a dog jacket and told him she'd like to go donate the items for the dog.

They showed up Sunday at the Demens Landing marina where Baby was being cared for by Tony Basile and Suzy Johnson, who both live on boats there.

After noticing how matted Baby's fur was, Klein offered to help Johnson give the dog a bath. In the marina's shower, she saw that the dog was scared and trembling, but was able to calm her down.

She also offered to give Baby a home if an owner couldn't be found.

"She and the dog totally bonded," Johnson said. "She's an absolute dog whisperer."

Johnson watched as Baby spent time cozying up to Klein on Sunday morning and allowed Klein to take the dog home when Basile said he wanted to go out on his boat. Johnson told her, though, that the pet hospital spokesperson had told her she needed 72 hours to search for the dog's owner before calling Animal Control.

The dog's owner apparently had not updated her phone number or whereabouts, and despite local media stories, had not come forward.

On Monday morning, Klein was running a bit late to work, hesitant to leave the dog, which she called "very, very sweet."

"Dogs know when you're trying to help them," she said. "They are so appreciative."

She had taken Baby to the vet first thing, where the doctor told her the dog was a "rugged little girl."

"He said both back legs were weak, probably from treading water for so long," she said. But she was healthy otherwise. She'll occupy the household with two other dogs the Kleins own.

She has already ordered a new collar for the dog — a pink and blue one with nautical flags and anchors. And Baby has been renamed with a moniker suggested by Johnson. Because "There but for the grace of God, she wouldn't be here," Johnson had told Klein, "I'd name her Grace and call her Gracie."

So Baby became Gracie.

And if Klein has any say it in, she'll live happily ever after.

Times staff writer Claire Wiseman contributed to this report.