Dogfella: How an Abandoned Dog Named Bruno Turned This Mobster’s Life Around, by James Guiliani with Charlie Stella (Da Capo Press [Perseus], 2015, 239 pages, $24.99)
From Godfella to Dogfella
James “Head” Guiliani is an ex-con, a former cocaine addict and an alcoholic who worked for John Gotti, boss of the Gambino family, as an enforcer for the Mafia in New York City. Who would want to read a book about him?
James “Head” Guiliani is also a dog and cat rescuer with his own shelter and dog bling store, The Diamond Collar, complete with groomers, where you can find ‘girl dog clothes’ as well as ‘boy dog clothes.’ Guiliani drops everything when he gets a call about an injured cat or about a dog tied to a parking meter, abandoned. He works seven days a week at The Diamond Collar and at Keno’s Animal Rescue, his shelter•, feeding the numerous cats and dogs twice a day and cleaning the floor three times a day. But he loves the work. Who wouldn’t want to read a book about him?
How Did He Turn His Life Around?
In a word, Lena. The lovely Lena, his wife.
And Bruno, the Chihuahua. James fell in love with the little dog who needed someone at the end of his life. James took it hard: “I was a six-two, 240-pound, ex-con, mush. I was useless.” (p. 25) He ended up giving his all for the neighborhood animals who had nothing. He “became obsessed with the idea. I’d been warned . . . that former addicts often replace one addiction with another. Well, if my new addiction was saving animals and opening a rescue shelter, so be it. At least it would be doing something constructive.” (p. 184)
From Chihuahuas to Pit Bulls: “That Gangster Guy Who Saves Animals” (p. 161)
Most ‘dog’ books, because they are written by humans, are actually more about the human than about the dog. Dogfella is no exception. However, this time this reviewer didn’t mind the digressions that take over the book. As a matter of fact, it kept me on my toes, trying to understand the lingo of the streets of ‘gangsta New York’ – for me, much harder than trying to understand a book written by a British author. (Caveat: some of the language is quite raw, as is the recounting of former exploits.)
Dogfella is an engrossing, inspiring book that you will read quickly because you can’t put it down. You will end up liking this ex-con for what he does. Chances are, you will even check out the links in this review.
Dog Grooming, Dog Bling, Dog Rescue and a TV Show on the Road to a Sanctuary
Steps on the way to Guiliani’s dream of an animal sanctuary include the Diamond Collar store and grooming facility and his shelter, Keno’s. He is well on his way, thanks to this book and all the resulting media exposure, including a 10-episode series on The Oprah Winfrey Network. Former contacts don’t hurt, either!
“The Diamond Collar TV Show/Dogfellas” has been called bizarre, heartfelt, and hilarious. Stay tuned!
•Keno’s is Different
Here is the list of rules on the wall at Keno’s:
Remain a cageless environment
Never require excessive or intrusive applications for potential adopters
Never require a fee for adoptions
Be run on the honor system, requiring those who adopt to promise to bring their rescue back to Keno’s if things didn’t work out
We would never set time limits for any of my animals; none would be eurthanized to make space. (pp. 224-5)