• Ex-con James Guiliani stole from drug dealers and sold cocaine and steroids to feed his own drug and alcohol addictions
• He details in new book how he was on the verge of suicide with a loaded semi-automatic in his pocket
• He future wife helped saved him by leading him to rescue the dog he would call Bruno
• Under all that matted hair, dirt and skin crawling with maggots and covered with tumors, was a kindred spirit
• ‘One night I went to bed a knock-around guy, and the next morning I woke up Mr. F*****' Rogers’
• He and his wife now run Keno's Animal Rescue in Brooklyn
By Caroline Howe For Dailymail.com
He went from being a Goodfella to a Dogfella when an abandoned, abused and sickly seven-pound Shih Tzu licked his face and lips after being untied from a parking meter.
Up until that time, drug-addicted ex-con, James Guiliani, who had been with the Gambino mob crew, stole from drug dealers and sold cocaine and steroids to feed his own drug and alcohol addictions.
Bruno, the new name Guiliani gave the ailing little dog, proved to be the final cure for the gangster’s demons.
Under all that matted hair, dirt and skin crawling with maggots and covered with tumors, was a kindred spirit that stole Guiliani’s heart.
‘His eyes looked dead, and his jaw seemed crooked. He was spotting blood from his a**, and his coat was a putrid greenish-yellow, which I would later learn was the result of being confined in a tight space where he was forced to sleep in his own p*** and s***’.
‘What the f***’, Guiliani said. Someone had left the dog to die.
His jaw had been broken and never set so he looked disfigured.
Until Bruno licked his face, ‘I was disgusted by dogs for licking their own balls. I couldn’t imagine letting a dog lick my hand, never mind my grille’.
The big tough mob guy had instantly fallen in love with his new best friend. ‘I was kissing him back.’
Now a far cry from life in the street as a mobster, Guiliani and his second wife, Lena, run a dog boutique and a rescue shelter in Brooklyn, New York.
Guiliani reveals how the first dog he rescued in 2006 stole his heart and changed his life forever in Dogfella: How An Abandoned Dog Named Bruno Turned This Mobster’s Life Around, published by Da Capo Press.
Three years earlier in 2003, Guiliani was alone and on the verge of suicide, sitting on a rock at Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, with a loaded semi-automatic 25 Raven pistol in his pocket waiting for the sun to go down before he pointed the gun against his head and pulled the trigger.
‘What I was was a bum,' he writes in his book.
‘At 35 nothing to show for my time on this planet except heartache for those who love me, prison tattoos, and a conviction record’.
‘I was a grown man with no money, no self-esteem, no girlfriend and no future.
‘When I wanted sex I paid for it – with unattractive street hookers, the kind that would scare a normal man into celibacy.'
He was sure his luck had run out when three underage girls walked by and struck up a conversation because they needed someone to buy beer for them.
One of the girls sensed he was in trouble seeing the outline of the gun in his pants. She talked him into not returning to the beach after buying the beer and giving her his phone number. She had a warm, compassionate friend she thought could help talk him through his troubles.
That first six-hour conversation with Lena, the younger girl’s friend, was the first stage of curing his demons, Guiliani confesses.
They met, they clicked and have been together ever since.
Guiliani’s plan to make an honest living was to open a gay bar in Manhattan – while they were in the midst of construction of Lena’s dream – a pet boutique, The Diamond Collar, in Brooklyn.
‘Not just a bar’. A gay bar. Those people spend. They like to party.
“You’re delusional’, Lena told him. ‘You’re an alcoholic, James. And a coke fiend. And you were taking steroids, what, six months ago? You can’t own a bar. You can’t go near a bar, never mind own one’.
James had never been an animal person but Lena was.
‘I could not care less about dogs and cats. To me they were more trouble than they were worth. They took time and money, neither of which I was willing to give away. I had my own needs, addictions that left me too selfish to worry about anything else.’
He wasn’t too cozy with Lena’s brood of a dozen plus cats or her pug named Brock. He had warmed up to one cat, Sniffles, but that was it – until that morning they were having an espresso at Café Sorrento on Eighteenth Avenue in Brooklyn. Lena saw what she saw what looked like an animal next to the parking meter across the street. She sent James over to investigate.
As he got closer, James saw it was a sick dog with a very thick rope wrapped around its neck, like the ropes used to tie a boat to a dock.
‘Holy s***’, James said. He had found himself in similar situations as a junkie and alcoholic when he’d used cocaine for days and drink himself into a stupor only to wake up on the sidewalk outside of a strange bar, having p***** in his pants and his face beaten to a pulp.
James picked up the little guy and carried him into the vet’s office where he was abruptly told not to bring that dog in unless he was going to pay for his care. The vet had no interest in the dog’s welfare.
‘At that point it took all of my restraint not to hop over the reception desk and put his head through a wall. This guy was a doctor? A veterinary? How the f*** could he ignore the dog’?
‘I’m not gonna go tie him back to the parking meter. He’s sick and you’re a f****** vet. Help the dog’.
Guiliani pulled out a roll of cash. ‘This enough, you p****’?
He didn’t want cash. He wanted a credit card. So Lena offered hers.
‘All I could think of was how I wanted to handle the doctor after the dog was treated. I saw myself breaking his greedy fingers with a hammer or punching his teeth down his throat with a fistful of quarters’.
What stopped him was the dog needed treatment.
Guiliani was never a 'mad' guy so technically he wasn’t a goodfella, a term used to describe a member of a Mafia family. But he ran with Gotti’s crew.
He was in a gang in high school in Queens, NY and segued right into the Gotti fold.
But the party ended in December 1990 when John Gotti Sr. was arrested along with mobsters Sammy Gravano and Frank Locascio.
The powerful boss was convicted and the high times of drugs, booze and partying at the mob’s social club with the crew were over.
James was on his own, robbing drug dealers to pay for his own drugs when he decided to hijack a truckload of Gameboys, a popular video game console, out on Long Island with some pals.
He was so coked up, he never saw there was no traffic and no truck on the Long Island Expressway. He didn’t see the lights from the helicopter flying low in front of his car doing 110 mph. But he saw the two cop cars that pulled him over.
Their hijack plan had been ratted out by their inside guy who had been busted several weeks earlier.
A ‘kidnapping kit’ in the car with gloves, tape, ski masks, plastic cuffs and handcuffs, burglary tools along with the guns they were carrying earned him two years in Suffolk County Correctional Institute, called Riverhead because of its location in upstate Riverhead, NY. It is also one of the most feared prisons because of the rough conditions behind those walls.
James couldn’t afford to do time again by beating up the vet who wasn’t going to care for Bruno without cash up front.
And he couldn’t afford to lose Lena who wasn’t going to put up with drug binges anymore or out-of-control behavior.
He had one last chance to get himself clean and out of the downhill slide he had been on all of his life as a full-blown junkie and a drunk.
The Diamond Collar opened and became Guiliani’s refuge.
When James learned that Bruno’s tumors were cancerous, he stopped drinking and doing drugs so he could spend all of his time with Bruno.
‘One night I went to bed a street-savvy knock-around guy, and the next morning I woke up Mr. F*****’ Rogers’.
He looked forward to seeing Bruno every morning and the new store now came before drugs and booze. ‘I was becoming an animal lover without knowing it,' he writes.
Bruno died breaking both of their hearts . Lena couldn’t get out of her depression and James was on the verge of a big bender to get over his own grief - so he thought.
But he first went to a pet store and bought a purebred Shih Tzu for more than $1000 and presented the little dog to Lena who named him Gizmo.
Returning home after a night grieving with friends on cocaine and booze, Lena had had it. He had to get clean – for the dogs.
‘Just like Bruno, Gizmo depends on you’, she told him.
Her lifelong love of animals finally won him over.
‘I finally understood how much love, all of it unconditional, animals give. I also realized how much they desire our love in return. It’s really all they ask for, to be loved’.
‘The animal boutique that was Lena’s idea would provide me with a venue to treat and care for animals’.
‘The Diamond Collar would become my refuge, while Lena, Bruno, and Gizmo became my saviors. My life would finally have a purpose other than selfishness and self-destruction’.
‘My sobriety began that very day in our backyard. Holding Gizmo up to my face, crying while he licked my face, I swore off my demons and have remained sober ever since’.
James and Lena cut the ribbon on the opening of Keno’s Animal Rescue in Brooklyn in 2013, a shelter for caring for rescues, no cages, but living the good life while waiting to be adopted, ‘in dignity and in comfort’.
Keno’s was Lena’s dream but James is running it.
‘Instead of afternoon card games at Café Amici in Queens, I was picking up dog s*** and emptying litter boxes. Instead of hanging out with the guys, I was hanging out with twenty to thirty cats and two to ten dogs’.
‘Working, really working for a living, isn’t easy. It takes real guts to earn a legitimate income. The day-to-day grind of a five-day work-week is a lot tougher than sticking someone up’.
Working closely with Guiliani on the many rescue calls he’s received is Dr. Salvatore Pernice, at Brooklyn Veterinarian Group who unselfishly examines and treats every rescue Guiliani brings in before they can be housed with other dogs and cats. James calls him a savior for him and his animals.
‘I owe him more than I can every repay.
Lena, aka Madelena Perelli, remains ‘my love, my best friend, my rock’. He confesses he owes her for every good that has come into his life.
‘Like they say, fuhgeddaboutdit. My cup runneth over’.
James and Lena pay for the care of every rescue. They rescued animals on Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area as well as responding to every call asking for help an abandoned or abused animal.
Readers can visit the Diamond Collar website at: thediamondcollar.com. Contributions can be made to Keno’s Animal Rescue.