- Special Sections
- Public Notices
OAK ISLAND—Mariah Brazil was on the lookout for a special dog.
Grieving over the death of her mother late last year, the Oak Island resident scanned the cages of homeless dogs at the Brunswick County animal shelter, searching for a special canine companion to help fill the void.
It took a K-9 to come to her rescue.
Brunswick County K-9 Sgt. Tommy Tolley was also at the shelter. He overheard Brazil tell a shelter employee she just hadn’t found the right dog yet.
Coincidentally, Tolley was seeking a special home for Ziras (rhymes with “Iris”), a 7-year-old male Belgian Malinois shepherd and one of Brunswick County’s top career drug dogs, who was being retired.
Normally, retiring police dogs stay with their handlers, he said, but this time Tolley didn’t want Ziras to be confined at home to a kennel, where the award-winning K-9 would watch Tolley leave daily with a new working dog.
Tolley got Brazil’s cell phone number and called her, just as she was arriving at Southport/Oak Island Animal Rescue (SOAR) to continue her search for the perfect pet. Tolley told Brazil he thought she and Ziras might make a perfect match. Brazil had a feeling he was right.
“I had never met that lady before in my life,” Tolley said, but she sounded exactly like what Ziras was looking for.
He took Ziras to Brazil’s home on Oak Island that afternoon. She and Ziras bonded immediately.
“It was love at first sight,” said Brazil, an administrative assistant for the nonprofit Communities in Schools.
Tolley told the family to keep Ziras for the weekend to see how things went. Ziras has been the Brazils’ pet ever since.
Ziras proved to be top dog for the Brazils. Tolley instructed and provided Brazil with Dutch commands typically used in police work with the breed trained in Holland.
Ziras, Brazil said, is wonderfully active and playful, responds well and also has proven to be a great watchdog and family protector. He even alerted Brazil minutes before her husband, Michael, suffered a seizure in the early morning hours in February. Brazil, who called 911 after finding her husband lying on the floor, said she isn’t sure what would have happened had Ziras not awakened her.
“He was supposed to be my dog,” she said, adding Ziras also has developed a strong attachment to her husband, a fisherman.
“When Michael’s around, it’s all about Michael,” she said.
Just a few weeks ago, Ziras stopped eating. On Aug. 14, Brazil took him to veterinary specialists at North Carolina State University where he was diagnosed with life-threatening lymphoma, believed to have resulted from a spinal-cord infection stemming from a back injury incurred during his police-dog days.
She had them begin immediate, expensive medical treatment, including chemotherapy. In just a few days, Ziras has responded well, Brazil said, and will continue treatment under Oak Island veterinarian Dr. Flint King.
“They think he has a very good chance of going into remission,” Brazil said. “Lymphoma is not curable, however, there’s a lot of dogs out there that live three-and-a-half years with lymphoma.”
The life span of Belgian Malinois, she said, is about 10 to 12 years.
“As you can see, he’s still doing very, very well,” Brazil said as Ziras chased his favorite dog toy, a well-chewed tennis ball, around the yard and house, wagged his tail and barked enthusiastically whenever his owner mentioned his name.
Ziras also has started to regain weight after losing 20 pounds in about three-and-a-half weeks.
“If he had not lost weight, we would not know that he was ill,” Brazil said. “He runs up and down the stairs; you see him with his ball.”
Before being diagnosed with cancer, Ziras was going on three-mile walks every evening with his family. Right now, Brazil said she’s afraid to let him do that because she doesn’t want to tire him out.
The mother of three hopes to continue Ziras’ treatment, but the family has run out of money. His medical treatment has cost them $2,000 so far. Veterinarians have estimated it will cost an additional $3,000 to $4,500 to get him through 16 weeks of chemotherapy.
She is hoping to generate additional community interest through the upcoming, second annual “Duffers For Dogs,” a benefit golf tournament slated for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at Oak Island Golf Club. All proceeds will benefit Coastal Carolina K-9 Officers’ Association and Tails U Win Dog Rescue. Part of those proceeds will go toward Ziras’ treatment. Any money that comes in via Tails U Win is earmarked for the Ziras fund, Brazil said.
The entry fee for the tournament is $65, which includes cart, green fee, coffee and doughnuts, and lunch provided by Oak Island Golf Club. People interested in learning more about the tournament or becoming a “top dog” sponsor can contact Betty Wallace at 278-1803 or Amy Van Dyne at 457-5839.
Ziras gave the best years of his life serving the community, Brazil said, serving four years and retiring when he was 6 years old. During his working years in Brunswick County, he garnered numerous awards, including 15 to 20 trophies, and ranked in the top 20 among drug dogs in the nation, Tolley confirmed.
“Being that he gave so much of his life to the community, I’m hoping that I can get some community interest behind him and perhaps helping out some of his veterinarian bills,” Brazil said.
Ziras, she said, means a lot to her.
“He was my therapy,” she said. “He’s been my therapy for eight months.”
Now, she said, it’s time to repay the favor.