By Jack McKay @_jackmckay
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Jack McKay, Nick Johnson
Editor: Kyle Waters
Ex-con James Guiliani worked for some of America’s most infamous crime families including New York's Gambinos.
But after rescuing the seven-pound dog called Bruno, James decided to dedicate his life to rescuing abused and abandoned animals.
He said: “Bruno did something to me I can’t explain - 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.
He said: "Since I was a kid I’ve been around gangsters - real old school gangsters.
"I hung out with the Gottis for a good 12 years of my life - it was a great experience because I became very tight with the family."
But his association with the mob took him into a life of crime and violence.
He said: "I’ve done everything from robberies to stick ups.
"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.
James said: “Initially I didn’t want to touch him - he was covered in maggots and was in pretty disgusting shape.
“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 seven pound 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 said: "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.
"My animals live quality, they live on beds on couches, they get treats and food.
“They don’t live in a cage and get walked for two minutes - that’s not quality.
“Quality is going to the park everyday and playing - that’s rescue."
And while now on the straight and narrow, James’s tough mobster persona can be an asset when it comes to sticking up for abused animals.
He said: "Is my temper still there? Yes. But it’s directed in a different direction now.
"I still have no problem jumping out of a car hitting you with a baseball bat, but maybe not because you owe me money, but because you’re abusing a dog."
Training partner Vinny Olito, said: "I think his past, being in the mafia, definitely influences the way he does things.
“He’s hard headed, he’s street smart and he just doesn’t give a shit.”
And James has traded his crew of gangster friends for top notch veterinarians and trainers.
Dr. Salvatore Pernice of Brooklyn Veterinary Group, said: "James is probably your classic case of judging a book by its cover.
"Most people will probably judge his voice and appearance.
"But underneath the leather and the sweatsuit he’s probably one of the nicest guys I know"
While continuing to work to save his beloved animals, James is thankful for his new crime-free life.
He said: "I’ve done some really bad things, horrible things to people and I need to do this
"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.
"Something's got to hit you and when these animals hit me, they took over - they took my heart.
"They taught me not to be selfish and without them I’d be in the boneyard. That’s the god’s honest truth. Without them I wouldn’t be here now."