DETROIT — Piper, the airport dog who became an overnight hit nearly two years ago, has died after a yearlong battle with prostate cancer.
The border collie, who was tasked with running birds and wildlife off the runway at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, died Wednesday night, according to Facebook and Instagram posts signed, “Your friends, Brian & Piper.”
The 9-year-old dog belonged to airport operations manager Brian Edwards, who has described himself as the “lesser half” of the airport’s K-9 team.
Friends, . It is with the ultimate sadness I must report the passing of my best friend and love of my life. . Piper passed away tonight peacefully in my arms after fighting a year-long battle with prostate cancer. He fought valiantly, and we did everything we could, but sometimes life just has to take its course. . Today, Piper enjoyed a pain-free day, filled with love from family and friends, mostly his fellow airport employees. He played soccer, got some much deserved butt scratches and yes, he chased away one last snowy owl as he sailed into the night. . As I hope was plainly evident, we are grateful. Grateful to have done what we loved for three years and had a whole hell of a lot of fun doing it. Mostly though, we're grateful for all of your support. It's what's really helped us through the dark days. . As we leave you tonight, know that Piper is in a better place. I only ask for your patience as I take time to tend to my shattered heart. . Lastly, as a final act of true class, the flag you see here draped over Piper’s body flew today at @uscg Air Station Traverse City and was taken down, folded and presented to us and a token of their love. Please join me in thanking the men and women, past and present, of Air Station Traverse City for their awesomeness. Piper and I are forever in your debt. . With love, . Brian & Piper
A post shared by K-9 Piper (@airportk9) on
The post read: “He fought valiantly, and we did everything we could, but sometimes life just has to take its course. ... Today, Piper enjoyed a pain-free day, filled with love from family and friends, mostly his fellow airport employees. He played soccer, got some much deserved butt scratches and yes, he chased away one last snowy owl as he sailed into the night.”
The airport K-9 grew to fame in Feb. 2016 after a photo and a gif of him in goggles were posted to the online forum Reddit. The Instagram account for Piper had more than 93,000 followers and a Facebook page for the airport’s K-9 team was just shy of 26,000 likes.
Edwards followed up the posts with a Reddit "Ask Me Anything," in which he shared details of what it’s like working with Piper, who he said took about a year and half of “passive training.”
“It's not natural for dogs to be around aircraft, so we had to gradually work up to the different sounds,” Edwards responded to a question on Reddit. “Each aircraft has a different sound. Every day we'd go out and do some socializing, consistent. This also built trust that I'm not going to put him into a bad situation.”
Piper worked four 10-hour shifts per week on a rotating basis, according to information on the website airportk9.org. To put that in perspective, according to the website, that means: 8,367 birds chased, 1,907 miles patrolled, and 6,202 hours worked.
The airportk9 site lists Piper's work gear, including: Rex Specs goggles, Mutt Muffs for ear protection, RuffWear boots, an aerial insertion vest, a tracking ID/harness, and a K9 Trauma Kit.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires the airport to have a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan to “mitigate wildlife hazards to aviation,” the Traverse City airport wrote online. Approaches include using lights/sirens, pyrotechnics, traps, habitat modification, and dogs, according to the airport.
The post announcing Piper’s death included only a photo of an American flag that flew at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City and was taken down, folded and presented as a token of love.