AUSTIN (KXAN) - After nearing death from neglect and turning that all around just six months later, Claire may be the greatest Dane of all.
The resilient gentle giant has been on her road to recovery in Central Texas since she was found in mid-November of last year, reported as dead by a caller into Animal Control.
Much to everyone's surprise, she was alive -- curled up in a ball in a blanket outside a Smithville home in Bastrop County.
"Looking at her, you can tell she's come ... well, there's no way to describe it, how far she's come," said Big Dog Rescue, Inc. President Julie Johnson, who also mentioned Claire's 59 pages of medical records after being taken in. "I mean, she was on death's door when we picked her up."
Still, her outlook was grim. She had just given birth, was nearly 70 pounds underweight and appeared twice her age, now estimated somewhere around 2 years old. Claire had a range of skin infections and would bleed at even the most loving touch.
"Claire really enjoys being the center of attention. There's no doubt that; whenever something is going on that doesn't involve Claire, She's going to let you know," said Kelly Rott, who adopted Claire. "She likes to be front and center, but that's pretty awesome, I think. In spite of what the first two years of her life were like, she has really come forward."
Adopted nearly six months after being rescued from an almost certain death if she had spent another cold night out, the now-healthy Claire wrapped up her trying journey -- landing at her forever home with Tom and Kelly Rott.
"I think Claire gets to live a long and happy life. She deserves it. She deserves a happy place, where she has a family that loves her. Every dog deserves a place with a family that loves them," said Kelly.
Now with the Rott family for a little more than two weeks, Claire is adjusting well and picking up the new rules of the house, with no lack of confidence.
"She doesn't see herself as any different than any other dog," said Kelly. "She's not shy. She's not frightened. She's not tentative around people."
Claire's deafness and blindness, 50 percent in both eyes, doesn't seem to slow her down much, either.
And in a household with two brothers -- Joshua, a 9-year-old Great Dane-and-terrier mix, and Sparky, an 8-year-old Corgi farm dog -- Claire's got big shoes to fill as the leader of the pack.
"Two words: She's the alpha female we were looking for," said Tom Rott. "There's no doubt whatsoever that we were looking to replace an alpha female in our pack, and she's done that and more -- in both our pack as a family but more importantly the pack of the three dogs."
Tom said "Claire is her own girl ... most certainly a thinker" who wants to tell her two brothers now what to do and when to do it.
"And I think they secretly wanted an alpha female as well," said Tom.
And the Rotts, who've always adopted Great Danes and rescued dogs, said it always seemed like Claire belonged there.
They lost the leader of their pack in December after having her for eight years.
"She was my girl," said Kelly, remembering their Great Dane, Abby.
She, much like Claire, was also deaf and taught the Rotts plenty about deaf dogs. She passed away on a Monday, and the next day Claire went up for adoption.
"Tom texted me, in fact, the day that Claire's application went up online and said: 'So, Claire?' and I said, 'OK ... Claire,'" said Kelly, who also spoke of the great resemblance between the two dogs. "We had just lost a beautiful dog, and it kind of just seems natural for us to have Claire come into our life."
The family had followed Claire's journey since Day 1 on Facebook, watching her transition into the "beautiful, healthy, amazing dog." And the Rotts are just part of the 20,000 Facebook friends and fans the docile dog has amassed.
"She's a rock star. I mean it. That's the only word that comes to mind," said Kelly. "
"She has more friends than we do on Facebook," chimed in Tom, chuckling.
"There's people all over the world that follow her on Facebook, and we want to continue to share that," said Kelly. "She's made a lot of friends."
"They would really like to see some action taken, and if a year goes by or two years go by and nothing's been done, we're not going to go away," said Johnson. "We're going to still be wanting some answers."
The pending case against her former owner
As for Claire's previous owner, Priscilla Bledsoe's misdemeanor case against her is still pending.
According to the arrest affidavit, a Bastrop Animal Control officer responded to a call about a dog injured in the roadway on Nov. 11, 2011. When the officer arrived, he found Claire curled up on a couch on the porch of Bledsoe's home.
Claire weighed half of what she should, and she appeared to have aged twice as fast. The affidavit said
she had no hair; open sores; red, swollen skin; swollen feet; dirty and oozing ears; fleas; ticks and smelled of yeast.
Bledsoe's son was at the house and was unable to show the officer any type of food for the dog. The son also told the officer that his mother could not afford to take the dog to the vet.
Officers took Claire to the Bastrop Vet Clinic, where Dr. Sierra Guynn rated her condition as a one on a 1-to-9 scale -- just one level above death.
Big Dog Rescue officials initially believed Bledsoe would not be prosecuted because they said the Bastrop County District Attorney had a history of not prosecuting animal cruelty cases. Since then, they've been asking people to write into District Attorney Bryan Goertz's office.
"Things are moving at a snail's pace with trying to get charges pressed for Claire, and we would like to move things along," reads an ad on Craigslist by Big Dog Rescue. "The District attorney is being silent with us, and we want to show that we will not be ignored."
However, Goertz said he does not return phone calls from the general public regarding this matter nor reads the "form" mail he receives on the case -- "both are a waste of time and ink."
"No amount of public pressure to pursue or not pursue charges will influence the State's duty in this case-to seek justice based upon the facts of this case and the applicable law," said Goertz in an email to KXAN News.
Johnson said on the Craigslist ad that they just want to make sure Goertz's office knew that "this was of great concern to thousands of people" because for some time, "it appeared that the DA's office was just ignoring our requests for charges to be filed."
"It's an emotional response," said Johnson. "We would like people to get involved. In the beginning, we felt it was the only avenue that we could take in order to raise awareness."
Johnson now says that they've found the DA's office to be very cooperative, following all the proper channels.
"At this point, the District Attorney's office has done everything that they need to do," she said. "I do think they take animal cruelty seriously ... Something's going to be done about Claire. We just don't know the timeframe yet."
KXAN News spoke with Goertz just last week, who said the state has formally filed a Class A misdemeanor cruelty to animal charges against Bledsoe.
"The State is well aware of the facts of this case, but will not further comment as the prosecution is still ongoing," said Goertz.
Goertz added that his office is also trying a felony animal cruelty case out of Bastrop County, where the owner allegedly left a collar on a dog so long that it actually grew into the dog's neck. They have seated a jury in that case and began presenting evidence last week.
Bledsoe has a pretrial hearing May 31, where Goertz said the state will allow Bledsoe to enter a plea. Goertz said a plea at this stage is almost always "not guilty."
"We would really like to make sure this never happens again," said Johnson. "What we would hope for is that she will get some consequences for the way she treated Claire. And this applies to all dogs. ... There needs to be some sort of punishment associated with the crime that will keep people from doing this again."
As for any type of possible fines as sentencing if Bledsoe is convicted, Johnson doesn't think that's enough.
"Money would not begin to compensate for what was done to this dog," she said.
Johnson said just because people don't see the hardships abused and neglected dogs go through because they're in someone's backyard or out of sight, it doesn't mean it's not happening.
"In a lot of ways, it's been hard to watch," said Tom. "In the beginning, it was very difficult to understand -- when you look at the pictures -- it's hard to understand how someone could think that that was OK for a pet, for an animal, to just completely ignore them to throw them away."
"It's not Claire's fault in terms of what she did, and I do feel bad that she has other animals," said Kelly. "I'm hopeful that the justice system will go through its course and deal with her appropriately, considering what she did to Claire."
What's Claire's next step?
Kelly said Claire doesn't hold anything against anyone and that her trust level with humans -- despite her years-long circumstance -- is just like any other normal dog, "perfectly OK with loving humans."
The family's focus now is on Claire, who will be treated like a dog with respect and has two meals to count on daily.
"Our role as parents is to take care of Claire. That's our job, and that's where our energy goes," said Kelly. "As people, it's difficult to understand that mindset that would make somebody think it's OK to do what she [Bledsoe] allegedly did to Claire. That aside, Claire deserves a happy life. She's here, and that's what she's going to get."
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