July 20, 2018 3:02 pm

Recovering addicts find kindred spirits in shelter pit bulls: ‘He needed love and I did too’

Molly is one of the pit bulls that works with recovery addicts through a partnership with Pit Bulls for Life and Our House Recover Centre.

Miranda Karkling Photography

In February 2017, Rodney Ariss was high on fentanyl and rolled his car. It was the middle of a blizzard and he laid there for two days, with temperatures dropping below -30 C. When he was finally found and taken to the hospital, he was in a coma for two weeks.

When he woke up, he knew it was time to kick his 15-year addiction to opiates.

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He found himself at Our House Addiction Recovery Centre. About nine months ago, a staff member suggested the clients work with Pit Bulls for Life, a pit bull rescue centre in Stony Plain, Alta.

READ MORE: ‘Frozen puppy’ finds forever home in Florida after rescue from under bridge

Now it’s a partnership that highlights the similarities of the two groups the president of the shelter says are misunderstood by the public.

“It’s a huge misconception of the dog, of course. With addicts, it’s the same idea,” Tia Lenz said. “There’s this blanket over them that we just shouldn’t talk about it. But we need to talk about it because they need help.”

LISTEN BELOW: Rodney Ariss and Tia Lenz speak with the 630 CHED Afternoon News

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Twice a week a group of clients from the recovery centre volunteers at the shelter. They’ll walk the dogs, clean the kennels, do yardwork and help around the facility.

READ MORE: Pet therapy can be a key in addictions recovery: survey

Ariss said he wasn’t sure what to expect on his first day at the shelter. When he walked in and saw the dogs behind the gates of the kennels, it reminded him of a prison.

“I can relate to them and that’s where the strong bond comes from, because I know what it’s like to be caged up.”

He’s formed a particularly strong bond with a dog named Hendrix.

“He needed a lot of love and I think I did too,” Ariss said. “Now he’s like a best friend. He helps me and I help him.”

The dogs are brought to Pit Bulls for Life from animal care facilities all over Canada. Lenz said the goal is to get the dogs re-homed, and working with the volunteers helps that process.

READ MORE: Former NHLer Bryan Bickell helping Peterborough pit bull find new home

As for Ariss, he’s hoping to continue working with Hendrix and spread the message his recovery, and the dogs, has taught him.

“There’s always hope if you’re in an addiction problem and if you come from a bad family,” he said. “There is hope out there to get back on track in life.”

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