“Until one has loved a dog a part of ones soul remains unawakened.”
The dog, so varied in appearance, yet so innately loving and responsive to all creatures. Dogs and humans have been helping each other get through life for thousands of years. They have hunted with their human companions, protected their flocks and families, served as police and in the military, helped us see, hear, comforted us, the list goes on and on. Lately I have noticed dogs playing new roles in our lives.
My first subject is the Border Collie, a hard working, energetic, and affectionate dog. The Border Collie was developed on the hilly border between Scotland and England (perhaps the origin of its name – Border) for the express purpose of herding sheep. They are high energy, highly trainable, intelligent dogs so sensitive to their handler’s instructional cues that sometimes it is the tone of a whistle, a raised eyebrow or a hand signal that gives them direction. Loving their people they will play with you rain or shine, snow or sleet. For overall health the Border Collie needs constant mental and physical stimulation…they are not for the faint of heart.
This brings us to a very special Border Collie, K-9 Piper. K-9 Piper works for the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, MI as a Wildlife Control Dog.
One would think with the comings and goings of airplanes, helicopters, and motor vehicles wildlife would be discouraged from seeking out airports as their landing areas or home. On the contrary, the wide open spaces of an airport are very attractive to all sorts of wildlife – deer, rodents, reptiles and a great many birds. These animals present a great danger to aircraft especially during take-offs and landings. Birds are one of the greatest hazards although I did see a deer caught in the landing gear of a plane. Birdstrikes, bird ingestion, bird hit, or BASH – Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard are a few of the names for this unfortunate event. Birds flying in the path of a jet may hit the windscreen or can be sucked into the engine dislodging the fan blades and shutting the engine down. Damage can be done by a single bird or a flock.
The first known birdstrike was in 1905 when Orville Wright was chasing a flock of birds through a corn field. On October 4th, 1960 a Lockheed L-188 Electra flying out of Boston hit a flock of starlings knocking out all four engines. The plane went down in Boston Harbor. Of the 72 passengers only ten survived. I believe most of us remember the January 15th, 2009 aircraft landing in the Hudson River…all passengers and crew survived.
The FAA requires all airports to have a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan. The purpose of this plan is to deter wildlife from using the airport grounds and airspace. This is done through habitat modification, harassment technology and research. Habitat modification might include mowing of tall grasses or the redirection of storm waters. Research includes becoming knowledgeable about ecosystems and endangered species. My favorite, harassment technology (never realized this was an area of study just thought is was an event I experienced as a middle school teacher :)) might include sirens, lights, traps, pyrotechnics and dogs. DOGS…..a win – win solution. Sirens, lights, pyrotechnics and traps are all pollutants while the dog is Mother Nature’s answer to air safety.
The Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, MI is the only airport in Michigan to have a Wildlife Control Canine. It is estimated that there are less then ten airports in the country using dogs for Wildlife Control. Let’s meet K-9 Piper.
Brian Edward, Cherry Capital Airport Operations Supervisor, adopted Piper in 2012 as a two year old pup. K-9 Piper, now seven, has become a highly trained Wildlife Control Dog. Being one of the first K-9 wildlife patrol dogs Piper and Brian are developing the craft and setting some standards. K-9 Piper has been on the job for a little more than a year working forty hour weeks. When not working both Brian and Piper continue to train. Brian has used several approaches with K-9 Piper, the first being obedience training, then off the leash training and finally on-the-job training.
An airport wildlife control dog has three main responsibilities: to patrol regularly, respond to wildlife reports, and to chase birds off the taxiways and runways. When K-9 Piper patrols he is looking for wildlife that might attract birds to the airport. Rodents, small mammals and reptiles are all attractive bird food. When wildlife is spotted it is reported to Brian and K-9 Piper. The dynamic duo jump into the SUV, report to the “target area”, make a visual and out flies K-9 Piper to chase off the intruders. Perimeter patrols are also in K-9 Piper’s job description. He is looking for breaches in the fencing….animals sneaking in and out. Telling the new breaches from the old is not difficult for this intelligent dog.
To do this job effectively K-9 Piper requires gear.
1. Eye Protection – mandatory year around day and night. He uses 100% UV protective goggles. Not only do these goggles protect K-9 Piper from the sun and light but shield him from the debris kicked up by the planes and helicopters.
2. Ear Muffs – also mandatory as air traffic noise is deafening particularly for the keen ears of a dog.
3. Footwear – these highly fashionable shoes protect against hot runways and natural debris though out the airport such as rocks, snow and ice.
4. Aerial Insertion Vest – my favorite, it sounds like the equipment my son used as a Marine. The purpose of this vest is to safely lift K-9 Piper in and out of the SUV, lift him over obstacles, and hang onto him when necessary. Attached to the vest is a Tracking/ID harness. The harness has a beacon used to see K-9 Piper’s position day and night. This marvelous vest was made possible through the support of Spikes K-9 Fund.
Sadly, on one leap out of the SUV to chase a Snowy Owl K-9 Piper broke his leg. It was hard to hold him back even with the cast. Hopefully this vest will make this a one time event.
5. K-9 Trauma Kit- mandatory. Donated by K-9 Defender Fund. This kit goes everywhere K-9 Piper goes.
Much of K-9 Pipers equipment is donated or purchased with funds raised selling merchandise. Check out K-9 Piper’s website: http://www.airportk9.org
A continuing theme through out my blogs is that nature has it all taken care of, this is another example. Although airports were not part of Mother Nature’s plan K-9 Piper was made for the job of Wildlife Management Control. It satisfies K-9 Piper’s need to be active, to think, to herd and to please. It takes care of the Cherry Capital Airports need to keep its passengers and crews safe. The wildlife is not harmed…..just harassed or encourage to hang out elsewhere. Last but not least….the centuries old bond between man and dog (Brian and K-9 Piper) has been greatly enriched.
Enjoy the video below and google K-9 Piper for much more.