updated 04/19/2011 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/20/2011 AT 7:45 AM ET
Four years ago, No Ordinary Family star Julie Benz went through a divorce and had to leave her two dogs in the process. She was devastated.
“I was just really distraught and sad,” she told PEOPLEPets.com at the 14th annual ASPCA Bergh Ball last week.
She found a new dog, a Havanese named Bamboo. Then a puppy, Bamboo weighed just 1 lb. and could fit in Benz’s palm. “I was like, ‘I got a hamster,’” she said. “I did not know what to do.” Benz figured it out eventually, and spent many hours with Bamboo, sitting and playing with him.
“To have that focus of taking care of somebody else was really important to me,” she said. “It was very hard for me to go through my divorce, and to have him as my companion helped. He kind of saved me when I needed saving.”
Now 4 years old, Bamboo has a companion in Sugar, a 1-year-old Maltese. “Whereas Bamboo has a little dog personality, Sugar has a big dog personality,” Benz said. “And she is very much like a person.”
The actress loves other dogs besides her own, and frequently visits with other pups, including a very special one named Patrick. Benz found out about Patrick, as many others did, through the story of how he was dumped down a trash chute in New Jersey, his body horribly emaciated. Patrick is now recovering, and Benz posted a picture on Twitter from the time she spent with him last week.
“I think our animal cruelty laws need to be tougher,” she said. “If you mistreat an animal, it should be a felony. It’s going to be a long road, but I think it’s important that we get the message out.”
See more celebrities and their pets on PEOPLEPets.com:
Rapper Eve Loves Her ‘Special’ Dogs
Kristen Bell’s Dogs Are Her Biggest Fans