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Traverse City Airport dog takes Internet by storm

This image of Piper sitting courageously on the airport runway as a helicopter rolls past garnered the attention over 3 million people on Reddit.
This image of Piper sitting courageously on the airport runway as a helicopter rolls past garnered the attention over 3 million people on Reddit.

It's a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … bird-chasing dog.

This dog is named Piper, a seven-year-old Border Collie who is tasked with chasing birds off the runway and taxiways at the Traverse City Airport. And he’s taken the Internet by storm.

Formally known as the Cherry Capital Airport K-9, Piper works as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s required Wildlife Hazard Management Plan for the airport.

'Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.' - Mark Twain Piper is a student of his craft, constantly learning. He never settles. Here he learns to deal with snowy rotor wash from @uscg #airstatvc. K-9 Piper: 'The Student' - watch the full video on our Facebook or YouTube pages. Eye Pro: @rexspecsk9 Ear Pro: Mutt Muffs Vest: @k9storminc Helicopter: @uscg Soundtrack: Sonic # #airportk9 #airport #k9 #k9team #k9storm #rexspecsk9 #muttmuffs #badass #aviation #helicopter #uscg #coastguard #military #training #winter #snow #dog #dogsoffreedom #dogsofinstagram #bordercollie #bordercolliesofinstagram #proudbordercollies #workingdog #workingdogsofig #traversecity #puremichigan @militarybadassery @becausebadass A video posted by K-9 Piper (@airportk9) on Feb 15, 2016 at 5:53pm PST

GIF of Piper, shown in the Instagram post above, sitting courageously on the airport runway garnered the attention of over 3 million people on Reddit this weekend.

People left comments like, “Yet another dog that is cooler than me,” and “The retrieving mission was a success. We found the ball.”

Michigan Radio had the chance to speak with Piper’s owner, Brian Edwards, an operations supervisor at the airport, about Piper’s role as the Cherry Capital Airport K-9. He says he never imagined that he and Piper would get so much media attention.

“Working with Piper morphed itself into something bigger than I could have ever predicted,” said Edwards. “And in all this I consider myself so lucky, because I get to bring my best friend into work everyday and work in the field together. We get to do some problem-solving, and I get to watch Piper learn to think and act for himself.”

As part of the Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, Piper’s work is supplemented by sirens, pyrotechnics, and other technologies to keep birds away from aircraft.

Edwards says he trained Piper for the job after reading about the effectiveness of dogs for wildlife control at airports.

“And honestly,” he added, “I never thought the airport director would go for it. But it wasn’t difficult to train Piper; border collies are bred for this. They are sheep herding dogs who can be used in a similar way for birds. So as soon as the birds are in the air, Piper will leave it be and move onto something else.”

According to Piper’s Instagram account, @airportk9, the praise continues to flow in.  

Hi to all our new followers! Been a crazy couple of days, but we managed to get groomed and some new aircraft familiarization in today, sans cast! Thanks to everyone for all the comments, it really is humbling how many people find Piper's work worth following. Oh and Sorry if we're slow to get back to everyone, we will eventually! # #airportk9 #airport #airportops #k9 #k9team #k9storm #rexspecsk9 #muttmuffs #spikesk9fund #e175 #united #airlines #plane #bordercollie #bordercolliesofinstagram #proudbordercollies #dog #dogsoffreedom #dogsofinstagram #workingdog #workingdogsofig #traversecity #puremichigan @united A photo posted by K-9 Piper (@airportk9) on Feb 23, 2016 at 6:16pm PST

Piper often likes to randomly stop and enter deep thought. Eyes closed, he breaths deep and just listens. Here he is on a perfectly still winter's morn during a taxiway inspection. I know I'm slightly biased, but there's something special about this guy. PS - The stuff you see on the ground is masonry sand. We use tons and tons every year to increase friction. # #airportk9 #airport #k9 #k9team #k9storm #aviation #sunrise #daybreak #deepthoughts #bordercollie #bordercolliesofinstagram #proudbordercollies #dog #dogsoffreedom #dogsofinstagram #workingdog #workingdogsofig #traversecity #puremichigan #Michigan #puremittigan #awesomemitten #michiganawesome @puremittigan @puremichigan @awesomemitten @michiganders @proudbordercollies A photo posted by K-9 Piper (@airportk9) on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:22pm PST

As Edwards explains, not all airports can use dogs like Piper.

“For many, using K-9s for wildlife mitigation makes airports question whether or not they are getting their money’s worth. The training and maintenance of these dogs can be expensive—sometimes costing over $15,000,” Edwards explained. “Piper is unique because he is a volunteer. He is my dog, I trained him, and I bring him into work everyday. The Traverse City Airport doesn’t need to worry about housing, kenneling, or feeding a dog.”

Business Insider’s shared this video of Piper in action:


And, after thousands of votes, a picture of an on-duty Piper has won the 2016 U.S. Coast Guard Shutter Shootout Photo. 

Credit https://www.facebook.com/UScoastguard/?fref=photo / U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard's Facebook page post on Piper's photo contest win

The U.S. Coast Guard posted the photo to their Facebook page and issued a thank you to all who voted and participated in the competition. 


Piper, who captured hearts with his enthusiastic work ethic, has passed away after a year-long battle with prostate cancer. 

His handler shared this message on the Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team Facebook page:

*This post was updated on January 4, 2018 at 10:06 AM

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