Ellie: The Dog Who Saved My Life

Ellie: The Dog Who Saved My Life

Living A Lie

My name is Eric Renzetti and this is my story of triumphant joys and pitiful defeats. This is a true description of how I survived addiction and now thrive in recovery. This is a tale of a man, his dog, and how they’ve saved each other’s lives, multiple times.

Let me take you back six and a half years, mid-2012. I was on top of the world, or so everyone else thought, anyway. I was a professional at keeping things hidden, only showing people what I wanted them to see. I was a year clean, working for a renovation company as their lead electrician; but I had a dirty little secret. The money I made as an electrician was good, but it didn’t satisfy my insatiable appetite for power. I was making underground steroids and had walked this path many times before. It always ended the same way, but once again I convinced myself that this time would be different. Surely this time would be different.

I had a fleet of cars, my favourite of which was a champagne coloured Jaguar, with all the performance options, of course. On the exterior I had everything, but internally I was dying. I was renting multiple houses, and my life was a confusing web of deceit. All the superficial things in the world, but it wasn’t enough.

I was dating the love of my life, we’ll call her Jackie. I was an alumnus of a Lower Mainland treatment centre and I tried to convince myself that I was following through on their program of action. The truth was that I had done the bare minimum. I had done what was required to get people off my back. I had Jackie, and I thought that she would make me happy. I tried to keep her happy. You know – happy wife, happy life and all.

A Dog Named Ellie

It was Christmas time, and I decided that I was going to get us a dog. A beautiful little Christmas puppy. Jackie and I drove to a farm in Aldergrove, which we had found through an online advertisement. We entered the barn and there lay a mother Border Collie and her 4 puppies. The smallest, fluffiest and cutest of the litter stumbled her way towards us. Right away, we knew she’d be ours. We picked her up and called her Ellie. The precious little girl fit in my 2 palms.

A few days later Jackie went to visit her family in Florida for a few weeks. A few weeks for me and my precious little Ellie to establish an eternal bond. From that moment on, Ellie and I were inseparable; we spent every moment of every day together. I loved taking her to the park, to work, and most of all snuggling with her every night. I was previously a stickler for a clean car, but once Ellie arrived, she took precedent. She always sat in her throne: the front seat. 

As Ellie and I grew closer, Jackie and I grew apart. I relapsed. Just like that, a 3-year relationship ended. I had my relationship with Ellie, but I was also resuming another long-standing relationship. Heroin. Meth. Drugs. Suffering. To this day, it brings me pain knowing that I brought Ellie along for my ride through hell. A tainted path of chaos laced with a bitter taste of incomprehensible demoralization.

As if a flip of the switch, my priorities changed; overnight, I went from being devoted to my work and dog, to being committed to the needle and nothing else. I became feeble, depressed, dissociative and numb. I felt like I had nothing left. I was neglecting myself, everything that mattered, and most of all, Ellie.

One day I accidentally did more heroin than my body could handle. Overdose. Ellie, the dog who I hadn’t been doing a good job caring for, came to the rescue and woke me up. I woke up to her claws on my face and her barking at the top of her lungs. She looked deep into my eyes as if to say “daddy, don’t die”. I had foam around my mouth and was in a daze. Ellie had saved me. I’ll never forget the way she licked my face once I woke up. Man’s best friend doesn’t do her justice.

Ellie Was Dying And It Was My Fault

A few months went by as if they were but a few minutes, and I was still entrenched in this seemingly never-ending rut of addiction. Ellie started to become sick. Vet visit after vet visit didn’t uncover anything. She was losing her hair and she became increasingly lethargic. She could barely walk and vomited regularly. She was dying. Only the helplessness that I felt in addiction is comparable to the helplessness I felt trying to get her help. Finally, the vet told me that there was one test left to do; he thought she was suffering from something called “Cushing’s Disease”, something I had never heard of before. 

The test revealed what the vet suspected; Ellie was suffering from Cushing’s Disease and would die if the situation wasn’t resolved. The vet told me what Cushing’s Disease was, and I was absolutely mortified; CD is a hormonal imbalance usually caused by elderly people petting their dog with cortisol steroid cream on their hands. I instantly knew how Ellie had come down with it. My basement steroid lab was killing my dog. All this time I had prided myself on being the best dog owner and just like that, it hit me, I was killing my dog.

Life stopped mattering. If Ellie didn’t get better, I wasn’t sure I would be able to go on. I made the decision that both Ellie and I had to be extricated from this situation. I gave up my only source of income at once. We both moved to my friend’s house. Slowly but surely, by the grace of God, Ellie started to recover. My prayers to save my little girl were answered despite the fact I was selling my soul to the devil and sinking to new lows in my addiction. I was running out of money and I no longer had any income. I no longer had the ability to earn income. Everything I had now went towards my habit and Ellie.

The pain of my addiction; all of my dreams melted into the abyss as drugs flowed through me like a stream of pain. Broken promises and shattered dreams. I had nothing left and had been reduced to hanging with low-lives and dope-fiends. I was a low-life, dope-fiend. I had no friends left and nothing was ever quite as it seemed. I became insane. The only constant was Ellie, my darling girl – other than drugs, she was my world.

Hitting My Rock Bottom

Desperate for money and a fix, I turned to worse and worse things. I became a driver for a man I wish I would’ve never met. I was taken advantage of; an easy target because of my tunnel vision. I learned to survive at all costs. Eric, the nice guy from a nice family had fully turned to the dark side. Submerged and immersed.

I started hanging out and using at a drug-den in Port Coquitlam. A safe-haven of sorts away from the hustle and bustle where I was doing crime. My life had been reduced to a vicious cycle of surviving and wondering where the next one would come from. I would stay up for days on end. I’ll never forget the psychosis and the sleepless nights. The lady who owned the house was in her 60’s and seemed to have a crush on me. She ended up being a surrogate mother to me and Ellie, making sure we had everything we needed. She’d feed me with drugs, and Ellie with food. Nobody else wanted to be around me, not even other drug addicts.

Through a reckless disregard for myself and my life, I ended up making a series of bad choices and trusting a series of bad people. I suffered a horrific car crash which nearly paralyzed me. I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and would go on to spend the better part of a year in jail. All the things I got away with, and now I was facing the music for someone else’s mistakes. Karma. I felt sorry for myself, but more than anything, I felt sorry for Ellie. Ellie was under the care of the woman who had taken us in, but I knew she didn’t love Ellie as I did.

By the time my trial was approaching, the woman had decided that she wanted to keep Ellie. Oh, how I missed my girl. Every day, I would lay, restricted to my second tier bunk, and pray. The weight of the world on my shoulders. I felt like I was caught in a room with the walls closing in.

Judgement day came, and I was found not guilty. It felt nice knowing that I would get out and have a clear name, but a year of my life had passed. A year lost to addiction. Worst of all, Ellie was gone. I had no idea where she was and no way to find her.

I knew there was one thing for sure, I had to stay sober, otherwise, I’d only have jails, institutions and death to look forward to. A return to drugs would certainly mean I’d never find Ellie again, didn’t it?

Unable To Shake My Addiction

Miraculously, my prayers were answered and I got Ellie back. Soon after, I returned to drugs. Eric was back on the prolific offenders’ list. Eric was in the midst of chaos and confusion once again. Eric’s life, so great when sober, was once again in shambles. The great heights of sobriety, and the pitiful lows of addiction. I was once again digging myself a hole, one scoop of a shovel at a time.

Ellie and I moved in with a lady we’ll call Bridget, she was a 50-year old heroin addict. Bridget had her life together – compared to me, anyway. My addiction went from bad to horrific, and back to bad. Sometimes I managed to stay with Bridget and Ellie, other times I was homeless on Main and Hastings. I bounced around between the streets, recovery houses, jails and flop-houses. I was immersed in a vicious cycle I never thought I’d escape.

Eventually, I just accepted that I would die. I was dying, and I couldn’t break the cycle. I had a friend who told me about a great program in Vancouver called Together We Can. I told him that it was no use, but he begged me to give it a chance. Here I was, no money, no hope, no place to live, and people still cared about me. I hadn’t done anything to warrant people caring in multiple years, but here they were, caring about me. I came up with every excuse I could think of about why it wouldn’t work. He just begged me to give it a chance.

Some of you may know how hard it is to get into treatment in British Columbia, especially if you have no money. To this day, I don’t know how it happened, but my friend Joel Campbell was friends with the Operations Manager at TWC, Daniel MacEachern, and got me in quick. I owe those 2 men my life.

On The Verge Of Dying

If you’re wondering how close to death I truly was, I came to TWC and could hardly participate for 2 weeks. My bones ached. I could hardly sleep. I barely ate. My organs and guts stung. My feet were swollen and my skin raw. The uphill battle was significant, but I came to realize that this is what I had to do if I wanted to survive, because I didn’t want to die.

A few weeks into treatment, I found out that Bridget had fallen ill and had left Ellie at yet another house. My poor girl left to fend for herself again. At that moment I made myself a promise; I wouldn’t let myself down again. I couldn’t rest on my laurels and convince myself that this time would be different. Unless I did it differently, I would have the same result. At that moment, I realized that I would end up abandoning Ellie again if I made so much as one bad decision. 

I faced a dilemma, stay in treatment and risk losing Ellie forever, or leave treatment and surely lose Ellie again.

I knew I couldn’t leave treatment, for I would certainly die if I did. I was no longer a casual user who might become a statistic; I had become the hard-core drug addict who faced certain death.

A New Life And An Old Friend

I told TWC staff about Ellie and miracles started to happen. Although I wasn’t allowed a dog in the house I was in, they moved heaven and earth to accommodate my needs. Me and three friends went on a rescue mission and collected Ellie from a drug house in White Rock. I’ll never forget the look in Ellie’s eyes when we rescued her that day. She had fleas, was underweight and noticeably depressed. She immediately didn’t want to leave my side. A staff member, Jordan Stone cared for her as I completed primary treatment, and nursed her back to health.

The gratitude I have for TWC, not only taking me in and saving my life, but for accommodating the rescue of my girl, is immeasurable. The two of us faced certain death but by the grace of God were reunited.

Ellie and I sleep together every night. My girl and I live at a TWC second stage and I have nearly 5 months sober. I have a sponsor, sponsees, and have done the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have what actually feels like sustainable sobriety for once. I get to see my mom once a week, an appointment I never miss. Next to my sponsor, she is the most encouraging and supportive person in my life. People are no longer afraid of me. I’m no longer afraid of myself. I can see a mirror and actually look back at myself. I don’t hate who I am, and I long to see what I’ll make of my life.

If there is anything you can take from this blog, just never give up. No matter how much you’ve hurt other people, don’t stop trying to make amends. I’m sure you know how much I wish I could take back abandoning Ellie, but at least I get to make it up to her going forward. I love taking her to the park and letting her play fetch for hours. It’s the least I can do, and I know she loves it by the way she looks into my eyes and perks up her ears.