Meet Piper, Michigan's Coolest Airport Dog of All Time | Midwest Living
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Meet Piper, Michigan's Coolest Airport Dog of All Time

Piper, the wildlife control dog for Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, makes headlines just by going to work.

Some dogs are afraid of vacuums, but Piper faces fighter jets and helicopters without a flinch. 

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Piper is living the doggie dream. As wildlife control at the Cherry Capital Airport, the 8-year-old border collie chases birds and animals. 

Piper works closely with his owner, Brian Edwards, an airport operations supervisor, to respond to reports of wildlife from the airport tower. Edwards drives Piper to the scene, and Piper bolts out of the vehicle to pursue the threat.

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Birds jeopardize the safety of planes at the airport because they can be sucked into engines or collide with an aircraft's windscreen. Traverse City is home to turkeys and snowy owls—two of the largest birds in North America—which create risks for pilots and passengers due to their size. Geese, ducks and seagulls travel in flocks, so the sheer number of them creates a hazard. 

Cherry Capital Airport primarily controls wildlife with a pyrotechnics gun, which creates the sound of explosions to scare off birds. But Piper’s work also helps since birds often adapt to hearing the noises.

So far, Piper has chased nearly 3,000 birds and worked over 2,700 hours. See him in action in the video below:


 

A video posted by K-9 Piper (@airportk9) on


Piper began working at the airport in early 2015 and became a social media star after members of the U.S. Coast Guard posted photos of him on their Facebook page.

“You’re not used to seeing a border collie next to a C-130 or a running helicopter,” Edwards says.

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Cherry Capital Airport doubles as an air station for the U.S. Coast Guard, which provides security and leads search and rescue missions at Lake Michigan and other portions of the Great Lakes. Edwards says pilots landing at the airport used to have trouble identifying what animal Piper is: Skunk? Bear? Coyote?

“It became a joke between the control tower and me that pilots would call him a random name, like a billy goat or something,” Edwards says. 

Now, pilots come in recognizing Piper.

“It’s a complete honor that people serving our country come here and want to get their picture taken with Piper. That, to me, is absolutely amazing,” Edwards says.

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Edwards had read about the use of border collies for airport wildlife control before he adopted Piper three years ago. After he adopted and trained Piper, he asked if Piper could do the job.

“I never thought the airport director would go for it,” Edwards says.

Piper is nearly fearless when it comes to being around loud helicopters and large aircraft.

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Piper works the same schedule as Edwards—four 10-hour shifts a week, starting at 4 a.m.—and he is always dressed for the job. Piper's equipment includes UV eye protection, ear muffs, a vest used to lift him into Edward’s truck and a harness equipped with lights to help others identify Piper.

In addition to chasing birds—never catching them—Piper searches for rodents and small animals, which attract predators, and identifies new holes created by wildlife under the perimeter fence. Though he loves the job, Piper works as a volunteer. 

Piper and his owner, Brian Edwards. Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

"Technically I lose money on this," Edwards says. “But it is completely and utterly fulfilling for me to watch this guy go out there and do the job. He’s out there thinking for himself, problem-solving and doing exactly what he’s been trained to do.”

Photo courtesy of airportk9.org

Learn more about Piper on his website, airportk9.org, or Facebook page.

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