Missing for 2 years, small dog found treading water in Tampa Bay

Last Thursday morning, a fisherman cast his line into the waters of Tampa Bay, Fla., hoping to land a big catch. But he never could have expected what would turn up in the waters beside his boat.

“Captain Tony” and Baby: “I’ll find a home for her or keep her as long as it has to be.” (Photo credit: Lara Cerri/Tampa Bay Times)

The fisherman had to do a double take when he saw a small dog’s nose bobbing above the dangerous waves. Shocked, he reached down and plucked the exhausted pup from the water. How she could have survived at all is nothing short of amazing — the dog, wearing tags bearing the name Baby, was close to two miles from shore when she was found struggling in the waves. It’s estimated the little girl must’ve treaded water for more than six hours.

“We’re assuming she fell overboard at night and nobody even knew it,” says one of Baby’s caretakers, Suzy Johnson.

Johnson and fellow caretaker Tony Basile (affectionately known as “Captain Tony”), two houseboat residents in the St. Petersburg, Fla., marina where the fisherman docked with Baby on board, helped lure the soaking wet and shivering pup from the crawl space of the fishing boat. Captain Tony wrapped Baby in a warm towel and took her inside his home to rest after her ordeal, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“She shook all night,” Captain Tony explains.

The next day, Johnson and Captain Tony took Baby to the vet’s office for an exam. A scan of her microchip yielded a possible owner’s name and some phone numbers, but every lead seemed to go nowhere. There was a flag on Baby’s microchip number, an indication that her family had reported her missing two years ago, but contact information for the owner hadn’t been updated in as many years. It’s possible her family reported her missing, found her, and then neglected to update the phone number associated with Baby’s microchip before she got lost again.

While it is not known how long Baby may have been separated from her former owner, it is clear she was well cared for and loved.

“She is just so well trained and obedient,” Johnson says of Baby.

As the days went by, Johnson and Captain Tony made every effort to locate Baby’s former owner, but to no avail. After following a couple of leads and reaching out to the press, hoping someone somewhere would come forward, a happy reunion seemed unlikely. Though he thought a bit about keeping Baby himself, Captain Tony knows his houseboat is not where Baby was meant to live out her life.

“I’m not going to leave the dog’s side,” Captain Tony tells TCPalm.com. “I’ll find a home for her or keep her as long as it has to be.”

Meanwhile, animal lover Kathy Klein was at home, learning all about Baby’s harrowing story, how the small dog likely spent most of the night desperately trying to stay afloat in the choppy water. Moved by Baby’s struggles, Klein knew she’d like to do something to help. So Saturday night after dinner, she picked up a few essentials for the little dog she hadn’t met yet, intending to donate the items to Johnson and Captain Tony for Baby’s care.

“Initially, I wanted to just go meet the people that were so kind to rescue her,” Klein tells My FOX Tampa Bay.

But looking at Baby’s matted fur, Klein thought she might be able to help give the scared dog a bath. After Klein bathed the little pooch, combing out her fur patiently and cutting out the knots, she made the pair an offer they were happy to accept — to adopt Baby should her former owners fail to come forward.

“She and the dog totally bonded,” Johnson tells the Tampa Bay Times of Kathy Klein.“She’s an absolute dog whisperer.”

So when the time came to get a new home for Baby, her caretakers knew exactly who to turn to. Klein was delighted to welcome a new and very special dog into her family. It was Johnson who suggested a new name for Baby: Grace.

“There but for the grace of God, she wouldn’t be here,” Johnson told Klein. “I’d name her Grace and call her Gracie.”

Sources: TCPalm.com, Tampa Bay Times, My FOX Tampa Bay