Theo Rossi repped biker houses in Sons Of Anarchy and classic car clubs in his hit new indie Lowriders, but in real life his gang is a trio of dogs that eagerly wait for him at home. The oldest is Benito, a 13-year-old ridgeback-shepherd mix that Rossi rescued from a kill shelter when he was a puppy. Little did he know that years later Benito would save his life, and send him on a path to salvation.
I have never lived a single day without a dog in my life. I am going to be 42 in June, and I think the only reason I have made it this far is Benito, who saved my life. I call him my Guardian Angel.
Back in the day I used to be a maniac. Now I don’t party at all, drink, or do anything. But when I first moved to Los Angeles I went out with five of my friends and we lived a very different life. Before I started acting I was just hustling, whatever it took to make money, whether it was right or wrong. It was like a fantasy world for us, and we just took over. Because of that we just started partying like crazy. So one of those nights, about eight years ago, I was drunk out of my mind and blacked out. I don’t remember when it even happened.
Next thing I remember I am lying on the floor. I feel Benito’s giant paws pushing on my chest and hear him crying and barking. I try to move and that’s when I feel the vomit in my esophagus. I had thrown up and it was still in my throat. Benito had been pawing at me so hard to wake me up that I had cuts on my chest. I turned my body enough to get it out, and it must have been sitting there in my throat for a while because it was in the shape of it, it had started to harden up. I am just laying there, starting to come out of it, and I realize that he had just saved my life.
I looked him in the eyes. I knew in that moment I needed to change. I knew that I needed to not be the age-old story of some promising actor who just became a degenerate. I had watched other actors I know overdose. So from then on I reprogrammed myself, and I made the promise that I was going to do everything I could for all animals, because of what Benito did for me. Now I became an ambassador for the Humane Society, but also a whole number of other organizations, from wildlife to local shelters. I will think about that moment with Benito for my entire life.
Right after that I discovered running, which I am now religious about. I run in races every year with Nike and I have done the New York City Marathon. I started to consider my diet more. I really changed my life, and Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons Of Anarchy, decided that he could trust me with a more serious arc in my character. I don’t think he would have given that responsibility to me if I had kept living the way I had. Now I have a production company and my line of bottled water, Ounce Water. Then I met my wife through working with a charity, and we had our first son, who I named Kane after this great Rottweiler I had in college. I think if we have another son, I have to name him after Benito, who we also call Benjamin. So we may end up having both of our kids named after dogs.
Benito is getting up there now, but still has so much heart. He will go after cats if he sees one, even though his hips are bad. I get such a kick out of it. I live in an amazing neighborhood on Staten Island, where our backyard just opens up to 37 miles of incredible greenbelt trails, with deer running around everywhere. Every single morning I wake up and take the dogs to the entrance of the park, and we just go for a walk. Then every night I carry him up the steps when it is time for bed. He goes for acupuncture, laser treatment, and adjustments every two weeks. I put him in our Denali and chauffeur him over there. I would do anything for him. I owe it to him. –as told to Charles Thorp