Dog found adrift in Tampa Bay had loving owner who died

Published Jan. 9, 2014

Before the little brown dog became Gracie, before she was rescued while treading water in Tampa Bay and before she ran away, Gracie was Baby, and she was loved.

About 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, commercial crabber Albert Darlington was setting traps when he saw what he thought was an otter in the bay about 2 miles out. When Darlington moved closer, he saw a dog struggling to keep its head above the surf.

"It wasn't long for this world," Darlington said in an interview Wednesday.

He rescued the dog, then left her with two St. Petersburg Marina residents, who later found the animal a new and loving home with a local family.

But the details of her back story unfolded slowly.

Until mid October she was the beloved companion of St. Petersburg resident Charlene Knotts.

"She was quite in touch with Baby," said Knotts' former housemate, Deborah Clements. "Baby was her little lap dog. She fed Baby off her fork and they had quite the relationship."

For 10 years, Baby lived with Knotts and was a great source of comfort during years of kidney dialysis and after Knotts had a transplant in February.

Knotts, 40, died suddenly in October and Baby was passed to a third roommate, who ultimately decided to give her to a new caretaker she found through Craigslist.

The dog was with that owner for a few days before running away in early December, Clements said.

She was pulled from the water Jan. 2 and taken to a local pet hospital. The dog's microchip returned a phone number, but nobody answered it.

Three days later, Kathy Klein and her husband, who learned of the dog's plight in the Tampa Bay Times, arrived with a dog bed and an offer: They would adopt the dog if her owner didn't come forward.

By Monday night, Baby was with the Kleins.

They gave her a name that all her caretakers liked: Gracie.

Knowing the dog was loved for a decade gives Klein some peace, she said, but she wonders about the animal's past.

"We can't change it," she says "We can just make it better from here."

For Clements, it's a happy ending.

When Knotts died, her liver helped keep alive a young boy in need of a transplant.

Likewise, the dog is getting a new chance.

"Now she's with her right owners and she's going to have another life,'' Clements said.

Claire Wiseman can be reached at or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.