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Something Wonderful: Memories of Piper, “They also serve who only chase and bark.”

For nearly three years, Piper the border collie was the furry face of Michigan’s Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team, chasing birds away from the runways and keeping the Traverse City airport safer for planes and passengers. He passed away on January 3, 2018.

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, cooler than a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce, it’s Piper the Aviation Bird Dog, ready for duty. Alongside his handler Brian Edwards, the dynamic duo protects the planes at Cherry Capital Airport from bird strikes. Birds can pose a huge threat to flight safety, but when they see Piper on his way, geese, ducks and gulls flee the runways. It’s an important job, but not one without its share of fun.

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  • Mike Anderson January 10, 2018, 10:56 AM

    Dang! There’s a mutt who lived The Life. How many pooches get to take a ride and stick their head out the window of a helicopter? And hang around with civilian and military pilots EVERY FREAKIN’ DAY? And wear custom Dog Goggles and a cool vest! I’m jealous.

  • Patvann January 10, 2018, 2:16 PM

    I wonder if he thought: “I’m onna Mission from God!” everytime the goggles were affixed…

    Damn I miss my dog.

  • ghostsniper January 10, 2018, 2:45 PM

    When Shannon does her “bidnit” down in her own private yard I stand on the deck and when completed she darts back up for the cookie that awaits her. It’s about 15′ from the drop zone to the lower deck, then up 6 stairs, then across about 8′ of deck, down 3 stairs, then 10 more feet of deck to me. So, about 31′. Last night I wanted to see how fast she is. It was dark so when I heard her hit the lower deck on the way back my hand went to my pocket where the cookies are. In the time it took her to get from the lower deck landing to me I still hadn’t gotten the cookie out and she was sitting there looking at me. Faster than I thought, but then I never really thought about it before. She can cover at least 30′ before I can extract something small from my pocket.

    That guy in the 2nd vid said a lot of things I hadn’t thought much about until he said them. I talk to Shannon much like she’s a person cause she can understand syllables. And she is amazingly quick at everything she does. I’m a life long dog owner and have trained all of them through obedience but I’m taking Shannon through utility cause none of the previous dogs, all spaniels, were as smart as her. She seems smarter than many of the people encountered on the web. She’s laying right here in her rack next to me at my desk….waiting for me to do something. Turn Pipers black to white and his white to tan and you’ll have Shannon and I hope we get more than 10 years out of her.

  • bilejones January 10, 2018, 3:01 PM

    We’re back to the eternal question:

    What did man do to deserve dogs?

    and the corollary :
    What did man do to have cats visited upon us?

  • Cris January 10, 2018, 4:32 PM

    Watching that dog run, I can’t help but think of Eric Liddell:
    “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast!
    And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

  • Mikey NTH January 10, 2018, 7:19 PM

    Piper was introduced to me through a friend also in the Coast Guard auxiliary. This friend’s son had been a rescue swimmer and then became a USCG helicopter pilot, and did both out of Traverse City. I never met Piper, but I got to see the pictures and the youtube clips.

    Some patch of heaven is goose-free right now.

    (If there aren’t any dogs then I’m not going to heaven.)

  • Mikey NTH January 10, 2018, 7:50 PM

    Also note the USCG Air patch on Piper’s vest.


  • Howard Nelson January 11, 2018, 9:52 AM

    Clear the field! Run, run, chase, chase
    That’s my job, to make safe space.
    Others’ lives depend on me
    I’m simply glad to serve, to be.
    I did my part, made it my art
    Had lots of friends, ran out my heart.
    Thank you for the pleasure of your company.

  • jwm January 11, 2018, 9:52 AM

    ARRGGH. Fie on thee Bilejones. But I’m not going to start the silly cats vs dogs thing, even though it is great fun. It has been an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve been horribly ill with the flu, and the only two things I moved for were the doctor and the Skinnycat. This is what comes of talking to animals. I have heard the term “noosphere” (with an umlaut) used to describe something like the entire pool of human consciousness and knowledge. I’ve come to believe there is a similar pool of dog, cat, and horse-consciousness, that we tap into when we allow these beasts to become part of our lives. I realized the second time I brought food for the cat that I had made a promise. I told the little beast that I’d be leaving soon, and I was going to take her with me. That promise took on the weight of a vow. There was no way I could just leave the job, and not take the cat. I even had to go a round with Personnel, telling them they wouldn’t get their keys back until I had trapped the cat, and not one day earlier. The alternative was Animal Control. I just got back from the veterinary clinic. Skinnycat is fixed, vaccinated, earmarked, and hiding in her little corner of my garage. The poor thing is royally pissed at me, and I don’t much blame her. I got the garage door propped open just enough so she can get in and out. Cat has a home. I has a cat. sorta’


  • ghostsniper January 11, 2018, 10:03 AM

    @jwm, Great!
    Now, in a week or so you need to close that garage door.
    At the same time open the door from the garage to the house just a bit.
    Then after she finds her new bed in the corner of the living room and the water and food bowls in the kitchen, close the house-garage door. -wink-

    Imagine seeing her splattered on the road out front.
    Or tore up in a fight.

  • Bunny January 11, 2018, 10:35 AM

    Cats aren’t all bad. Yeah, I know it’s instinct, but when you consider there are some humans who lack it…

  • Bunny January 11, 2018, 10:46 AM

    OTOH. Don’t you dare laugh!

  • Joel January 11, 2018, 12:28 PM

    That’s really cool and I’m sure the dog loved his job, but I don’t understand the utility. Those birds are going to be airborne when the plane passes no matter what, that’s how birds get injested. What’s the point of a dog to scare them into the air a minute or two ahead of time? If they want to be there, they won’t go away.

  • azlibertarian January 11, 2018, 2:46 PM

    The point is to get the birds to move elsewhere onto a farmer’s field, or wherever, where there isn’t a dog chasing them down.

    I’m an airline pilot and had a birdstrike last year on approach into LAX. It doesn’t happen often, but as Sully demonstrated birdstrikes can be very serious. This one was a seagull and he hit right on the copilot’s window* with a great thud. Of course, he left a big smear, but interestingly (maybe only to me), most of the bird’s carcass stayed attached to the windshield wiper until after we landed and were halfway to the gate.

    *The copilot was flying at the time, and I told him that if he were worth anything as a pilot, he would have put that seagull onto the Captain’s window. Maybe the Captain would retire and he could get a promotion out of the thing.

  • Becky January 12, 2018, 7:29 PM

    I knew Piper well. He was my niece’s dog and spent a lot of his youth at my brother’s house in the country. Piper was always smart and energetic. He would play for hours outside with a tetherball. We used to say he needed some sheep or something to herd. We knew he was smart. My dad flew a Piper Cub the last years of his life; my niece is also a pilot, and I never asked, but there was probably a connection. We also think if heaven is a happy place, our pets must be there. We were happy that Brian took such good care of him and found him a job. Piper would have been 10 in March according to my niece.

  • ghostsniper January 12, 2018, 7:56 PM

    A life too short.

  • CCW January 12, 2018, 8:04 PM
  • Mikey NTH January 12, 2018, 9:31 PM

    Thank you, Becky, for that background on Piper. Like I said, I knew the dog through a friend whose son was at USCG Air Station Traverse City as both a rescue swimmer and a helicopter pilot. When I heard that Piper had passed away, I passed his story here as a “Something Wonderful” which it is and will continue to be.

    Again: What did we humans do to deserve dogs?

  • Becky January 13, 2018, 7:04 AM

    I’m not sure what we did to deserve dogs, but as my son used to say dog backward is god.
    Brian deserves the credit for working with Piper and making him a star. I think Brian had him bulked up a little too. I remember him skinny and wiggly. I didn’t get up to see him, didn’t know he was ill, but thought about him the last time I was in TC and drove by the airport.

  • Scott M. January 13, 2018, 6:02 PM

    “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
    Will Rogers

  • ghostsniper January 14, 2018, 7:35 AM

    @Scott M: Must see. My favorite TZ episode. Watch the whole thing.

  • Steve in Greensboro January 15, 2018, 10:41 AM

    The Piper video and your commentary was very moving. Of course, his enthusiasm, speed and grace were the core, but some of the details struck me too. I loved his handle (which allowed his human partner to pick him up). I loved his goggles (to keep the Canadas from getting at his eyes).

    Give Lucy, my year old GSD bitch, goggles and take her to that party and most of those geese are going to be chased away, all but a handful which you can keep for dinner.