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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Former mob enforcer stars in new reality show called The Diamond Collar

James Guiliani and Princess at his store the Diamond Collar, which is also the title of his new series on OWN.

He did three years in prison as a mob enforcer, but TV’s newest reality show star is now all about saving cute and furry animals.

“I understand I was not a great a person, but it’s never too late in life to get educated,” says James Guiliani, 46, who now co-owns the Diamond Collar, a pet store and grooming salon in Dyker Heights, with his girlfriend, Lena Perrelli, 49. “You don’t have to be born an animal lover to learn to love animals.”

Their new show, also called “The Diamond Collar,” premieres Jan. 17 on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN. It follows the former Mafia thug as he rescues dogs and cats that have been abandoned — then quarrels with Perrelli about bringing them home.

Perrelli has a heart of gold and inevitably gives in, which may explain why the couple has 60 dog and cats, plus one rabbit. They keep about half the animals at their Bay Ridge home and the other half at a nearby animal shelter.

The Diamond Collar co-owners Lena Perrelli and boyfriend James Guiliani star in a reality show about saving abandoned dogs and cats.

“When I met him, he had no idea what it was to love an animal,” says Perrelli. Guiliani credits her with saving him from a life of drugs and crime after serving time on gun and assault charges.

It was tough love at first, and just three weeks after meeting Guiliani, Perrelli punched him in the face and broke his jaw. After that, Guiliani says, he knew he’d found the woman for him.

Now Guiliani is as devoted to his many four-legged friends as he once was to using drugs and booze.

“As a gangster I had pockets full of money and could get any girl,” he says. “Now I’m shoveling cat s— all day. But I’ve found a purpose and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”

A scene from "The Diamond Collar," a new series on OWN about rescuing abandoned animals.

Guiliani’s old mob buddies know about his new life, and know that he’s the one to call if they ever come across an animal in need.

The lengths that Guiliani will go to save an animal include crawling into a Brooklyn junkyard in the middle of the night to rescue a pug that had been left without food or water. Generally Guiliani takes a rescued dog directly to his favorite veterinarian for a checkup. But this time the vet was sleeping. So Guiliani called Perrelli to beg and plead for the pug to come home with him. All the while, the cameras were rolling.

“Come on, James, you know that we can’t have another dog in this house,” she whines. “It’s really too much.”

In the end, it wasn’t; Perrelli gave in and the pug got to spend the night.

James Guiliani and girlfriend Lena Perrelli at a fund-raising competition, seen on "The Diamond Collar."

These unlikely heroes didn’t cut their own sizzle reel or audition for reality show fame. Instead, one of their customers recommended the Diamond Collar for a segment on an Animal Planet show.

The segment was shot but never aired — but it ended up making the rounds of reality producers, and the shop started getting calls from production companies.

Guiliani says he was fielding offers from A&E (home of “Duck Dynasty”) and other networks, but decided to go with OWN out of a lifetime admiration for its namesake.

“I picked Oprah because she’s an animal lover,” he says. “Everything she puts on the channel is educational. She doesn’t go for cheap gimmicks.”

Educating the public about the healing potential of animals is what Guiliani says “The Diamond Collar” is all about. Animals, he realizes now, saved his life and gave it a purpose.

“You got to grow up from a stupid kid to be a wise old man,” he says. “I could die tomorrow and at least people will say I died happy.”



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