It’s a fairly common occurrence for a bird and a plane to collide.  Recently, a Japan airlines flight had to make an emergency landing due to a bird strike, while another commercial plane was forced to make an emergency return to Cardiff Airport in Wales after a bird hit an engine.  Although rare, dogs trained to deter these incidents can be extremely beneficial.

Bonus Content

This is the story of a man, Brian Edwards, who got a dog from his friend and the two began a journey of working together to help create a safer environment for people.  They both did the work because they loved it and as a result, became famous by accident.


All photos copyright Brian Edwards 

Piper was a Border Collie who was tasked with wildlife control at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan.  Piper provided a proactive approach to wildlife management at the airport during the three years that he worked there.  As a result of his work, Piper became a popular member of the community and the airport.  Piper gained internet fame as a result of his job at the airport and reached hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

Watch Piper racing a C-17

Watch the tribute to Piper

We want to extend a special thanks to Brian Edwards for sharing Piper’s story.
Visit WebsiteFacebookInstagram

All photos copyright Brian Edwards @airportk9

Podcast Transcript

Click ‘Show transcript’ below to read the transcript from this episode of A Life of Dogs.

A Life of Dogs Podcast – Season One, Episode Two (S1 E2)
Episode Name: Catching a Flight

Hosts
Jason Purgason; Chris Anderson

Guest
Brian Edwards

Duration
42:39 minutes

Chris: Support for A Life of Dogs is brought to you by Rex Specs Dog Goggles. Rex Specs Dog Goggles are eye protection designed specifically for your active and working dog. They provide protection from debris, sun exposure, and general eye trauma. To learn more about Rex Specs, check them out on Instagram @rexspecscanine, or on the web at rexspecs.com, and from Royal Canin. Royal Canin offers precise, effective nutrition for dogs based on size, age, breed, and to address specific needs. To learn more about Royal Canin, visit them on the web at royalcanin.com.

[Intro Music]

Jason: Hello everyone and welcome back to A Life of Dogs. We’re pretty excited about what we have in store as we’re producing a doubleheader for you. You see, we were working on this episode and decided that the content was just too good to cram into one. The first episode in the series explores the story of a dog chasing animals, not just for fun, but to create a safer environment for people. The second episode in the series follows the story of dogs chasing people to save the lives of animals in their environment. Our host, Chris Anderson starts us off with Catching a Flight.

[Music]

Pilot: Is this a regular dog? 

Tower: No, it’s actually the airport dog. They use it for scaring away birds.

Pilot: He must love that job, right?

Chris: It’s a fairly common occurrence for a bird and a plane to collide. Recently a Japan Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing due to a bird strike, while another commercial plane was forced to make an emergency return to Cardiff Airport in Wales after a bird hit an engine. Although rare, dogs trained to deter these incidents can be beneficial.

[Airplane sound].

Chris: This is a story of a man who got a dog from his friend and the two began a journey of working together to help create a safer environment for people. They both did the work because they loved it and as a result became famous by accident. We start with Brian Edwards, who tells how the whole story began.

Brian: I had met Piper when he was two and then I officially got him when he was around five-ish.

Chris: Although Brian didn’t get Piper as a puppy, their bond quickly became strong. As Piper was raised on a farm and enjoyed a lot of freedom in his early life, he never had much leash training.

Brian: That was our first sort of a foray into any sort of training was just getting going on the leash. That’s where our bond started forming there.

Chris: Walking on a leash quickly evolved into running races.

Brian: Around the time that I officially got Piper, I was starting to train for running races, obstacle races. I can’t remember exactly how many we did, probably around eight or so, and we won every one of them, and so that was really special. Anything with him was all except for one was all the obstacles stuff, and then one of them was just a straight fundraiser, a 9K so I did as much as I could with Piper and I really enjoyed that. You know, it was always a lot more special to do anything with Piper, whether it was a mile or 50 miles. That really didn’t matter. It was just the fact that he and I were going out and accomplishing something and doing really well at it.

And after the first couple of races with Piper, he just knew what we were doing. He would just put his head down and run. And again, that was doing a lot of stuff, especially the obstacles was really great for us because he was doing a lot of stuff that he hadn’t seen before, and especially after the first couple of races, even if he would come up to an obstacle that he hadn’t seen before, he had the confidence because he was running previous races that even though he didn’t know exactly what it was, his hesitation grew less and less through each race and his confidence soared, so that was really special for me to see. That year and a half of the training for the races and actually doing the races with and without him was really special for the both of us. That’s eventually where we would do some of the obedience training that we needed to do for the airport was during all that stuff.

Chris: Their bond was growing and racing was fun. But Brian also had his job at the Cherry Capital Airport.

Brian: So my job at this airport is called an Airport Operations Supervisor. I’m one of six, so I’m not the operations supervisor. Anyway, my function exists at pretty much every commercial airport in the world, just in different capacities and with different titles. Part of that responsibility is wildlife control, and I started at the airport in January of ’08, and shortly after I started there just because I’m now in aviation, that was my first real job. You just start reading about different things that other airports are doing, not specific to any one thing or just reading around and I happened to stumble upon the Fort Myers airport in Florida who was using a Border Collie for wildlife control or chasing away water fowl down there.

Chris: That idea from Florida planted a seed in Brian’s head, a seed that would later grow when Brian saw potential for that type of work in Piper.

Brian: I had read about the use of Border Collies a long time ago. Then after I got Piper, I just decided to give it a shot. I mean, it’s pretty much as simple as that.

Chris: So Piper got a shot at working at the airport, but there were a lot of jobs he still needed to learn.

Brian: Really what it amounts to is that we did one of two things. One is either react to wildlife, which would be if you had your Cessna and you’re flying in and you see a flock of geese or something next to a taxiway or wherever it might be, you report that to the control tower. And then part of my responsibilities during the day is to carry around the airport BAT phone. It’s just a complaint hotline. So the tower would then relay that to me, either calling me or if I’m already out in the field, they would call me over the radio and let me know that, and then if we were inside, I’d load Piper up into the truck and we’d go respond immediately to that area because that’s a life safety issue. And he would deploy out of the vehicle, he’d jump out of the back seat. I always said it was like a missile launch. I always loved that part. And you know, I tried to get him to see what he was going to chase first obviously because I wanted to have a radar lock as it were before he jumped out, but even if he couldn’t see it – like the snowy owl was very hard to see, the white bird up against a white background of the snow – just the way that we worked and we trained when we were at work. Anytime he deployed, he didn’t run perpendicular to the vehicle. He ran the direction the vehicle was traveling. So I just had to point the vehicle wherever I wanted him to run, and he would just run at it and then eventually pick up on movement, go ahead and chase it.

So that’s one – reactionary – and really that’s a lower percentage of the time because wildlife is cyclical. We could go a couple of weeks, especially if it warms up in the springtime. Spring and fall were our busy times for waterfowl, like ducks and geese because it’s wet and cool out. And then as I mentioned, the winter time was heavy snowy owl action and then the summertime turned into more of the rodents and mammal chasing, primarily foxes. So reacting to stuff is actually a low percentage of the time. Most of what we did was try to be proactive, and when we’re doing that I would let him out of the vehicle and he wasn’t looking for birds at that point. He would go into his detection mode. He wasn’t trained to detect bombs or drugs or any that stuff, but he was really good at sniffing out moles and voles and other varmints in the ground.

And the reason we would do that is those are a food source for the larger predators. So winter time, the snowy owls, summer time hawks, which when they hunt, typically they’re hovering…. not hovering but circling and a lot of times that’s in the approach path of an aircraft or a helicopter, and then those would also be a really good food source for foxes. So by doing that, just being out on patrol did a few things for us. First of all, you’ve got a dog running around which is discouraging for anything to land or anything to be out there. I’m in the truck, I’ve got the flashy lights going on, and so just having a presence out there is a plus. He’s going after the moles and voles in the ground, and if he found one he would dig it up. He had a really good nose and he could dig like an excavator.

But you know, a lot of times you’re going up against a mole that already has a tunnel network built. So most of the time they were a little bit quicker than he was digging-wise, but he got quite a few up over the course of the three years that he was doing it. But then also if we have to react to something, we’re already out in the field and it’s a lot quicker for us to do that. So we try to be as proactive as possible, but as we said, a lot of people don’t think about trying to eliminate the food source. And that’s the other part of the equation when you talk about wildlife control is that it’s not just going out and chasing stuff because you and I could do that continually, but you have to do something that is going to try to eliminate them wanting to come back, and what Piper did was kind of two-fold for us in that sense.

One is, Piper was like a predator to the other animals. So Border Collies do something called Border Collie stock where they get low with their butt high, tail tucked and have a very intense stare that’s meant to emulate a predator, so it’s not just the going out and chasing stuff. We also have to do that to make the animals think that there’s a predator in town. Piper was not lethal when it came to birds and all the other stuff, but the animals don’t know that because it’s built into their DNA, the fight or flight. So no matter how many times Piper chases something, they’re always going to run away because they think there’s a perceived threat of danger. Whereas a really great example is a snowy owl. Snowy owls gets really used to humans and you wouldn’t think so, but we have huge plows in the wintertime for ploughing our runways and taxiways, very loud and one of our guys driving that thing could drive within 15 feet of the owl and it would just look at that thing driving by. Eventually the owl would learn that Piper is coming out of this red truck that’s driving around and I couldn’t get within 100 or 200 feet even though the owl was just passed by this gigantic plow, and that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted the animals to learn that Piper’s a predator and you don’t want to come back and that was the whole point.

So that’s part of it and then the other part is modifying the habitat. What we’re doing by having him dig up the moles and voles and that stuff is in essence modifying the habitat because you’re trying to get rid of the food source. So it’s not just as simple as going out and chasing stuff. A lot goes into it, but that’s really what we’re trying to do. Big picture is to make the airport as unattractive as possible via a lot of different methods to wildlife, so they don’t want to come back and be here.

Chris: Piper loved his job so much that he did it for free.

Brian: So again, being a smaller airport, we don’t have a lot of disposable income, so this isn’t something that the airport probably would go out and purchase. They might now because they’ve seen the value in it, but especially going in cold, I don’t think I could have walked into my boss’s office said, “here’s a bunch of research papers that says Border Collies are effective. You want to plunk down 10 grand on a dog and go for it?” It probably wouldn’t happen because again, we’re not a large airport that just has a lot more money than we do to kind of do stuff like that, so I went into it knowing that I wasn’t going to be compensated specifically for Piper’s use, but I looked at it the whole time like a hobby. I wasn’t out of house and home obviously, because that would be dumb, but though I wasn’t compensated monetarily for his use, I was compensated in the sense that I got to work with my best friend every day. So I really can’t put a price tag on that and I never knew before having Piper at work what impact he would have on me, my fellow employees in our maintenance building, the people around the airport, and obviously it ended up being an impact worldwide, but just keeping it local I never knew what that impact would be. So you know, going into it, I wasn’t going “I’m not getting paid for this. This is not right.” That wasn’t it at all. I was confident in his skills and I wanted to bring him to work with me since he was my best friend. I mean, there was no question. It wasn’t about the money. It was all about working with him. And then, once we got into the groove things, I never once thought about the money because again, here I am as far as I’m concerned, I was the luckiest person in the world.

Chris: Piper developed another role at the airport. For many, he quickly gained the title of chief morale officer.

Brian: I was just being selfish. I wanted more. I wanted to work with my dog every day. Right? So it wasn’t something that I was bringing him to work because he’s going to help with morale. I thought that that might happen, but you have no idea a) how anything’s going to go down because I’ve never done anything like this before. We’d never done anything like this before at the airport so you have all these people that aren’t used to having an animal around, and obviously not everybody is a dog person, which is fine so there’s a lot of variables going into it, not just on the operational side. But the other stuff that a lot of people think about is that Piper, this animal – dog – is going to be with these people for 10 hours. We work four 10 hour shifts a day.

So how’s he going to be received? I had no idea. I hoped well, but you just never know until it starts. So as it progressed and we got into the groove of things and he got used to the people at work and they got used to him, it morphed itself into, like I said, what we called the chief morale officer. We have those glass doors and a really long sidewalk. He knew what time of day it was and he knew he could expect people around this time during shift change, and he would recognize people down the sidewalk and he would have his tail wagging like a propeller and whining, waiting for and greeting people at the door. We’ve got a couple of gentlemen in our building that aren’t necessarily dog people. Not that they hate dogs, but don’t have one of their own and would never have one of their own, but Piper was so well-behaved. He didn’t slobber. He didn’t jump on people, didn’t do a lot of the stuff I think people don’t like about dogs, so that became sort of a relief for me that he was accepted and in the end, that was the kind of the greatest honor or however you want to put it for me is that Piper became one of the guys.

Chris: Piper often worked in extremely harsh conditions and as such, he needed some special gear to keep him safe.

Brian: Living and working in Northern Michigan, we get all four seasons and some years it’s a lot harsher than others, so first of all, border collies are working dogs. They’re meant to be outside. They are farm dogs. They’re bred to herd sheep. That’s an outdoor function; it’s not an indoor function. So they’ve got a double coat. They’re very well suited to be outdoors and can handle the elements, and specifically Piper. He had an extremely thick double coat. He never got cold. I mean, I saw him shiver once and that was way before we started working, when we were going on couple hour hikes when it was negative temperatures out. So he was well suited for this job and they were like a lot of dogs probably. They just like be in the snow and the muck, like being dirty, so none of that stuff bothered him at all.

But on the flip side to try to aid him in all that stuff, we had a couple of different things. One, I think that everybody pretty much knows him for are the goggles or the Rex Specs. Those are just general eye protection, so they do a couple of things for them. They’re 100% UV protected. Dogs can get eye disease just like you and I can, so it protects his eyes from the sun, especially in the winter time when you’re getting all of that reflection off the snow and all that. And then obviously they act as safety glasses for the rain, wind, snow, any of that, but when we were chasing after deer through the woods, he wore them so much. He would use them as a tool to push stuff out of the way because he knew he could do that because it was protecting his eyes.

So there was one time I remember specifically, I deployed him out after a deer that was in a field and he ended up chasing it into the woods and I had forgotten the specs that morning and he came back and he was bleeding just about a centimetre underneath one of his eyes. And I said, never again. He will not ever be deployed without the specs on, but it’s stuff like that. Obviously if that would’ve been a different location, it would have taken his eye out. That will never happen, but we don’t think about it because we’re five, six feet up in the air. Our heads are, but they’re way low to the ground, so they’re much more susceptible to that kind of stuff. 

So the specs really are our biggest piece of equipment. I mean, they just really protected his eyes and they fit in his head really well. It’s a great product and obviously they look cool too. So they in rule number one… not really the rule number one is always look cool, so they had the cool factor, but in all reality, they’re a great piece of equipment that really protected his eyes. But then also we were donated a vest that really its primary function was to help me lift him up into the truck, and again because Piper was a volunteer, we weren’t a formal unit or anything so I wasn’t funded by the airport equipment-wise, so I just had to use whatever the airport provided me for my job, And we’ve been driving around Explorers for a long time and so obviously I don’t have a canine kennel or a canine vehicle, so it’s just a regular seat in the back. And again, being a little bit older instead of having him jump up and down all the time, I would lift him up with this handle that was on the vest and we were bombing through the woods. It would give him a little bit of abrasion protection from the sticks and all that stuff, and they could put reflective patches and lights on them and everything to see him during the darkness because we chased foxes at night all the time in the dark. So between the two of those things, they definitely helped us out tremendously.

[Music]

Chris: This episode of A Life of Dogs is brought to you by Rex Specs Dog Goggles – comfortable, stable and dependable eye protection for your active dog. Not only do Rex Specs look great, but the lens, frame and strap design offer a comfortable fit, large field of view and stability needed to accommodate the most active dogs. Rex Specs Dog Goggles are rated UV 400 and have shatter-resistant lenses. They are used by police, military and recommended by veterinarians across the country. Rex Specs are hands down the go-to eye protection for dogs. Whether your four-legged partner deploys from helicopters, sticks its head out the car window or is an avid squirrel chaser, we’ve got you covered. If you’re wearing sunglasses or eye protection, maybe your dog should be too. Rex Specs comes in six sizes to ensure they fit every pup from the five-pound Chihuahua to heavyweights like Great Danes, Burmese Mountain dogs and more. Check them out on Instagram @rexspecscanine or on the web at RexSpecs.com.

Royal Canin delivers precise nutritional solutions so your dog could perform at their very best level. To achieve a perfect balance of nutrients for each dog, they rely on an extensive network of canine experts from across the globe, including veterinarians, universities, dog professionals, and their own research and development center in France. Royal Canin helps your dogs train and perform at their full potential. To learn more about Royal Canin, visit them on the web at royalcanin.com.

[Helicopter sound]

Chris: An airport can be a challenging environment to work in, even for people. For a dog, it can be downright intimidating. As such, Piper had to get used to some pretty noisy mechanical birds.

Brian: He was good when we did the test run in the beginning. He was good with jets and propeller planes. Again, not saying that he would be five feet from them but he wasn’t frightened of them. Helicopters on the other hand, he did not like at first, so we really had to slowly just gradually move into that, and I had to see that he was going to have the aptitude to at least attempt it with me. When it came to the helicopters, he would just kinda hug in tight to me, but he wasn’t like running away, so I knew that if we worked at it and worked at it slowly enough and just showed him that it is okay to be here, that you belong here and it’s not going to harm you, but we also need to set up a safe distance and everything, that we can work at it. So I saw that potential at least, but if I hadn’t seen that potential, then the whole thing would have been for nought.

Chris: Piper soon became accustomed to the sounds of airplanes and helicopters so much that he often took rides in them and even got the chance to jump out of one.

Brian: A lot of that stuff was all environmental training and just like in humans, it’s all about stress management. How can you manage the stress and then still do a job while you’re under stress, and so that was the point of doing that kind of stuff. So we had a friend at the airfield who took us up in a couple of different helicopters. We were fortunate enough to get approved by Coast Guard headquarters to take him up in a Coast Guard helicopter which was really, really cool because being a civilian, that’s extremely tough to do, but it’s just the experience of being in the helicopter with different noise and vibrations with all the equipment. He had his ear muffs on at that time too. So the specs, the muffs, the vest going through totally different experiences, elevation changes, all that stuff. It’s a different noise inside the helicopter as it is outside the helicopter, and we would also go out and we did this plenty of times.

The Coast Guard here, they have an air station that obviously isn’t doing rescues every single day, so they have to practice for that and how they practice for that is by hiring somebody to go out on their boat and they do hoisting practice off of this contract boat, and we were allowed to go out many times onto this contract boat. The reason we did that is again, it’s a totally different environment for him – the waves, the helicopter hovering above us, the rotor wash, getting hit with that and then getting sprayed with the water, the basket banging on the deck and then all these different noises and everything made him prepared for anything at work. The worst case scenario for us is that I dropped dead out there so I can’t have him freaking out because he comes up on something he doesn’t know about, so even though he’s not going to be chasing geese or whatever out on a boat, it still gives him confidence that he’s been in a loud environment getting splashed with all this stuff, he’s just going to be a more confident dog.

The gentleman that donated his vest is a former Naval special warfare operator and he used that vest on his dogs that he handled in the Navy, and it’s called an aerial insertion vest for a reason because he would take his dogs into bad places and a lot of times the only way to do that was to parachute in. So I had sent him an email a long time ago just saying hi. And that’s kinda what I did after Piper and I started. None of this was about meeting people. I just figured I’d send him a message, not looking to get donated or anything. I just wanted to talk about handling dogs and his experience jumping with dogs, so we just kind of hit it off from there and a couple of years later we were down at a charity event trying to help them out to raise money so they could invest in more dogs and I asked him if he would consider taking Piper up and he’d been around Piper quite a bit and he felt confident enough to take Piper up. He didn’t know obviously how Piper would…you never know a dog is going to handle jumping out of an airplane, but something that I’m really proud of is that Jimmy to this day says that Piper is the chillest dog who’s ever jumped with out of an airplane, which is to me saying something cause you’re talking about very, very highly trained dogs that they use in special operations. So for Piper to be the most chill dog jumping out of an airplane is a pretty darn special for me.

Chris: While working at the airport, Brian and Piper made some pretty cool friends.

Brian: I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it weren’t for the Coast Guard. They had posted about us shortly after we started officially, a couple months after, and that kind of launched us into…they have a very popular Facebook page. A lot of news outlets follow it for rescues and not just news, and they had made a post about Piper, this new dog at the airport and so that kind of launched into him into his first 15 minutes of fame and then it all kind of just tumbled from there. But by and large, the Coast Guard has been our biggest supporter. We would go over into the hangar a lot and hang out with the men and women there. It was just really great. I still talk to and have many lifelong friends at the Coast Guard, and he would bee-bop in and out of the offices up there and you’d just hear, “Hey Pipe, hey Pipe, hey Pipe” so that was really special and like I said, they had to go all the way to Coast Guard headquarters to get him approved to fly in a helicopter and it was approved. So I think that right there, it’s not about the helicopter ride, but it’s just about the fact that people were willing to put themselves out there to write a letter to say, Hey, can we get Piper up into a helicopter? It means a lot to us and have it go all the way to headquarters and get signed off is pretty darn special, and we were fortunate enough to meet the Commandant of the Coast Guard a couple of times.

After Piper passed, many, many messages from a lot of different people in the Coast Guard, many of whom we’ve never met or just met through social media, the comment that they posted about it. A couple of admirals that we had met that had posted about at or sent us letters. So just very special indeed and something that I will always cherish. The Coast Guard has a special place in my heart and it was always great for us to promote the Coast Guard in a sense. We’re not in the Coast Guard, but we work at an airport that they have an airbase or … excuse me, an air station at, and here’s the people that do it.

Chris: During the time that Brian and Piper had worked at the airport together, Piper had become fairly popular, but his popularity was about to hit an all-time high.

Brian: I had posted a video of Piper when we were doing some of that environmental training we talked about in the winter time with the Coast Guard helicopter passing behind him and he’s getting hit with some snowy rotor wash. He had a cast on at that time because he had broken a toe deploying out of the vehicle and his fur was waving, the cast is kind of waving in the wind, and he just looks at the helicopter like, “yeah, what? And so I had posted that and it was a week later, somebody had posted it on Reddit and it made the front page, number 1 on the front page. And then I think it was another picture of him with all of his gear on made number 4 that day, and that went viral. Our website went down, just got hugged to death and the rest is history. 

So I still don’t know who it was that posted that in June of that year, and we were on CBS Evening News, which was just a really great story. Just things here and there. He’s been in a lot of kids books like Scholastic, a lot of kids’ educational magazines, stuff that I used to read as a kid and to now see my dog in there, and I’ve got plenty of stories from teachers that have contacted me saying that they have a Piper lesson, that they use Piper somehow to integrate it into their stuff. I mean all that because of really a Reddit post is pretty crazy.

Chris: That Reddit post led to a huge social media following. Piper currently has over 30,000 Facebook followers and over 100,000 followers on Instagram.

Brian: I just started all the social media stuff because I thought I love Piper and I love aviation so it’s something unique, so I thought a few people might like it. You can’t make anything go viral and that wasn’t the point of doing it anyways. It just happens. I think I still have a screenshot on my phone from a few years ago before we went viral obviously, from 4,000 followers and I thought that was an insane amount. You know, I was like, we’re never going to get to 5,000. It’s just so crazy. And then you know, obviously like you said, 100,000 later, it’s just insane and I can’t speak enough to how positive our community has been and his fans.

Obviously you’re always going to get the haters. It’s the internet. You can’t avoid that, but 99.9 to the nth degree of it has been totally positive, and the way that people have really made a connection with Piper has been the biggest surprise for me. I put a lot of time and effort into the social media and I hope that really showed that it wasn’t just posting cell phone pictures with dope captions and stuff. I really tried my best to respond to peoples’ comments, emails, messages, and over the course of a couple of years we’ve had easily over a couple of hundred visitors to the airport that will come and meet him. People flying in, we come in on our days off and really made an effort to make ourselves available, and again, all because of a dog and the connection that they made with this dog through either a phone or a monitor is just… it’s pretty surreal.

Chris: Piper’s job wasn’t always hard work. He often had the opportunity to have a little fun.

Brian: Come on Piper. Let’s go, Buddy.

Brian: Every two years we get….. it alternates. One year we’ll get the Blue Angels, so on even years we get Blue Angels and on odd years now, we’ll get the Thunderbirds. So that was last summer and I don’t know what leg it was, but the Air Force gets a reserve unit to either fly in all their equipment or fly out the equipment. I can’t remember if that was the in or the out leg, but last year Piper was diagnosed with his cancer in January of 2017. So I just made it my mission to just have fun. I mean, obviously do the job but to just go out and have fun and he loved to run so what we would do a lot, and it started with a Delta Connection pilot. It was her birthday and I said, Hey you guys taxi out and maybe we’ll race you, see how we can do, and that’s what started it all there, and we ended up having a lot of races. We had pilots messaging me to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be in at such-and-such time. You guys going to be there? We’d love to race’ and so it just became something that we did for fun. It wasn’t anything operational because again, we’re not going to be chasing something up or shooing up birds that close to an aircraft. It was just strictly for fun. And so, that C-17 was one of my favourites. We’ve raced a C-17, an A-10, a couple F-18s, airliners. I mean, I say racing, it’s just on the taxiway obviously. They are not taking off. We’ve raced the Commandant of the Coast Guard and I think he actually beat us because it was a long day and Piper was kinda feeling it that day. But anyways I had to kind of figure out when to let Piper out to kind of make it a race. 

So a lot of times I would let him out behind the aircraft and then he would overtake them because when he was in a dead sprint like that, he’d do about 25 miles an hour, and I don’t know if it was in that video, but definitely a couple of other ones. I just kind of give him a couple of commands kind of like a jockey to get him to go a little bit faster, and then when we passed them, it was time to stop. I’d just call him and he’d stop and come back to the truck, but like I said, that was just a lot of fun. And then you’d see whether it was in that C-17 or in a passenger commercial plane, I could see the people inside whether a C-17, the pilots were taking pictures, or the passengers taking pictures or video of him racing, then we’d stop and wave to people as they passed on. Then obviously with the military guys like that, we’d trade patches and I’d send them a video or pictures of it or something and then get a picture with the crew. And so it was just a lot of fun.

Chris: Sadly, at the age of nine, Piper’s work at the airport ended on January 3rd, 2018 when he lost his battle with cancer. Piper’s work did not go unnoticed and a Memorial was held for him. Lots of people came to celebrate his life while hundreds of others joined them online.

Brian: There was just over 300. There were a couple of different counts that were inaccurate, but the official count was just over 300 physical people there, and the live streaming I think we had at peak over 700 at one point. So at one point, there was about a thousand people watching live his memorial. I posted a version of it on YouTube for people to see. That was just a really, really special day. We made an effort to become a part of the community because I didn’t want to ever be just this dog that’s behind the airport’s tall security fence and that you can never really… like kind of a zoo thing that you could just look from the outside and never really interact with.

I didn’t want to be that so we made it a point to try to become a community member. We go to schools as much as much as we could and as much as people asked us to. We do community events, meet and greets, again do a lot of stuff with the Coast Guard, the Boy Scouts and whatnot there, and so I think to say that we had 300 physical people at his memorial and I know a few people got in line at 9. It was held at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and people were starting to get in line at 9:30, 10 o’clock in the morning because they didn’t know how many people were going to be there and they wanted to make sure that they were going to get a seat. So that’s pretty crazy that many people showed up because obviously you have no idea. It could have been a thousand people. It could have been one person that showed up, you have no idea, but not just at the Memorial but big picture, as he passed and after he passed, just the amount of support from the local community here and around the world has been straight up overwhelming. There’s no other word to describe it.

Chris: US Airways flight 1549 left LaGuardia Airport in New York on January 15th, 2009 bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Soon after take-off, it struck geese and consequently had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. Preventing situations like this is paramount in airline safety. Piper’s work resulted in no bird strike incidents for three years at Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan. He touched many in his community and across the globe through his work and dedication as an airline safety ambassador. Piper will always be remembered as the Guardian of Guardians.

Jason: Thanks once again for tuning in to this episode of A Life of Dogs. We hope you enjoyed the story of Piper, the airport canine. Let us know what you think of this episode by leaving us a review on iTunes, Facebook, or on our website at alifeofdogs.com

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and Sound Cloud and be sure to stay tuned for the second part of this doubleheader called The Fearless Ones.



We also want to thank our episode sponsors.  Be sure to visit them to learn more and show them your support.


WebsiteFacebookInstagram

WebsiteFacebookInstagram

7 comments on Episode 2: Catching a Flight

  1. PPEPower says:

    Another great episode. Piper’s owner went above and beyond to give his dog a life less ordinary. He should be proud.
    Can’t wait for the 2nd installment of the double header.

  2. Chris M says:

    Awesome podcast. Read a brief article back when piper first became famous. It’s cool to hear the whole story. Be prepared to get hit in the feels at the end.

  3. Silas Perdue says:

    A life of dogs podcast delivers again! Captivating and informative Piper’s story is truly amazing.

  4. Danielle Starsick says:

    I heard about Piper for the first time a couple months ago and I love being able to get the full story! Throughout this podcast it felt as though you were apart of Piper’s life and I could imagine being there with him at the airport. I can’t wait for the next episode!

  5. Daniela Carrera says:

    Great story! It’s amazing what dogs can teach us! Waiting for the next episode!

  6. William G says:

    Amazing podcast. It’s great to hear about Piper’s life and experiences and how he touched so many people. His transformation from obscurity, to commanding the respect of high ranking officials, is very inspiring.

  7. Euvunka says:

    This episode was wonderful about a one of a kind dog. Piper led an amazing life and gained a fan in me. He had star power, was magnetic and touched so many lives. It is amazing to have a podcast that caters to the life and adventures of dogs like Piper. I can’t wait to hear more stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *