The actress, who was arrested for buying drugs, says grief over her dead dog fueled the incident

By Amy Green
Updated June 03, 2008 11:25 AM

Tatum O’Neal feels saved by the officers who arrested her Sunday in New York for allegedly buying cocaine near her home.

“I’m still sober!” the 44-year-old Paper Moon Oscar winner proclaimed to the New York Post. “Just when I was about to change that and wreck my life, the cops came and saved me. I was saved by the bell, by the guys in the 7th precinct.”

O’Neal made an illicit purchase at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Clinton Street, Det. Martin Speechley, New York City Police spokesman, confirmed to PEOPLE. She was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor.

“There’s no excuse for what I did,” she told the Post. “I lost my Scottish terrier, Lena. That seemed to set me off.”

The daughter of actor Ryan O’Neal and the ex-wife of John McEnroe, O’Neal told PEOPLE in 2002 she was abandoned by her drug-abusing mother, actress Joanna Moore, at age 7 and began using drugs by 14. She moved eventually from marijuana, Quaaludes and cocaine to heroin. The actress chronicled her struggle with addiction in her 2004 memoir, A Paper Life. She completed rehab in 1996.

O’Neal told the Post that her dog’s death three weeks ago rekindled the grief she felt after her mother died in 1998. The dog “was the fabric of our family. We had to let her go to heaven. My daughter and I had to put her down. It was too horrible for words. I couldn’t get out of it. I was going to my psychiatrist. I was doing everything I could do. I have the disease of alcoholism. It’s lifelong. I treat it every day by going to my 12-step program.”

From O’Neal’s description, the 18 hours she spent behind bars wasn’t that bad.

“I slept on a mattress with a couple of ladies because I was tired. And they were nice! And I thought the thing that was cool about New York, no special treatment. No special cell,” she told the Post. “I’m eternally grateful, as sort of grim as the situation was, that I didn’t get to do what my disease was telling me to do.”

O’Neal is due back in court July 28. She has a movie out Aug. 2 on Lifetime.