A mobster turned his back on a life of crime after finding love with an abandoned Shih Tzu!
Ex-con James Guiliani worked for some of America’s most infamous crime families including New York’s Gambinos.
But after rescuing the 7lb dog called Bruno, James decided to dedicate his life to rescuing abused and abandoned animals – becoming more Dogfather than Godfather!
‘Bruno did something to me I can’t explain,’ says an emotional James. ‘Before him nothing got to me, but he got to me. The day he died crushed me. I snapped to attention – I realised I just can’t do this anymore.’
Growing up in New York James fell in with organised criminals from an early age. And while still at school he was introduced to members of the Gotti crime family.
But his association with the mob took him into a life of crime and violence.
‘I’ve done everything from robberies to stick-ups,’ admits James. ‘I used to like to take the drugs from drug dealers – they would take out their wad, and I would basically strong arm them.’
By 2003 James’ chaotic lifestyle and addiction to drink and drugs had driven him to the brink of suicide. However, after meeting now-wife, Lena, a passionate animal advocate, he was introduced to animal rescue.
The pair later set up grooming salon and rescue centre The Diamond Collar in Brookyln and James put his energy into saving animals.
Then in 2006 James’ life was changed forever after Lena spotted Bruno tied to a parking meter in a terrible state. ‘Initially I didn’t want to touch him – he was covered in maggots and was in pretty disgusting shape,’ recalls James. ‘We took him in, cleaned him up and took him to the vet for emergency medical treatment.
‘The thing that won me over with Bruno was that he’d been beaten, he’d been destroyed and he’d been abused. I took him to the vet and later that day what’s the first thing he did? He licked me in the face. He could have bitten my face off because of the way humans treated him his whole life.
‘Nothing ever got to me at that point in my life, but this dog was getting to me and it was scary because I didn’t know how to accept it.
‘You know, murder, my mother dying, my father dying, I lost two brothers. I’ve lost and I still pursued the gangster lifestyle.
‘It took a 7lb Shih Tzu to change my life forever.’
Two years ago James set up Keno’s – a no cage shelter for abandoned animals where he cares for 42 abandoned and problem pets.
James explains: ‘When I was on the street and I needed people, there was never anyone there for me. I related to these guys because they were dumped – that’s why I’m here more than I’m at my own house, they need me more.’
While continuing to work to save his beloved animals, James is thankful for his new crime-free life. ‘I’ve done some really bad things, horrible things to people and I need to do this,’ he says. ‘I need to redeem, I need to clear my conscience of a lot of things and the only way to do that is to give something back.
‘These animals hit me, they took over – they took my heart. Without them I wouldn’t be here now.’