The Story Be­hind The Photo

Birds are one of the big­gest safety risks at air­ports. With one ex­cep­tion: the Cherry Cap­i­tal Air­port in Michi­gan. That’s be­cause Piper works there. The bor­der col­lie keeps the run­ways bird-free – even in the most ex­treme con­di­tions

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Contents -

A fas­ci­nat­ing photo – and the story be­hind it

The eight geese wad­dling in the grass next to the run­way have no idea. But Piper does. He knows it’s only a mat­ter of min­utes be­fore the three o’clock flight taxis onto the run­way at Cherry Cap­i­tal Air­port – and the birds are pos­ing a se­ri­ous fly­ing hazard.

Piper is an eight-year-old bor­der col­lie – and a US Coast Guard air­port se­cu­rity of­fi­cer. His job: to keep the run­way free from pesky birds dur­ing take­offs and land­ings. There aren’t many things pi­lots fear more than a bird fly­ing into one of their en­gines. Over the years, dozens of air­craft have been brought down this way. Sec­onds later, Piper sprints from his base to bark at the birds, forc­ing them to re­treat to a safe dis­tance. Mis­sion ac­com­plished. The con­trol tower gives the pi­lot the all­clear: the run­way is ready for take­off.

Piper works four days a week in four-hour shifts, pa­trolling the air­port. He col­lects sticks and de­tri­tus from the taxi­ways and drives away ducks, pi­geons and geese. Over the past year alone, he’s driven away 2,450 birds.

The other half of the air­port’s K-9 team is his han­dler, Brian Edwards, pic­tured be­low with Piper. “Bor­der col­lies’ herd­ing in­stinct means they are per­fect for this job,” says Edwards. Like any other run­way worker, Piper is pro­vided with ear­muffs to pro­tect against en­gine noise and gog­gles to see in snow­drifts. He also wears boots to shield his paws from ex­tremes of tem­per­a­ture: it can fall to mi­nus 20°C in win­ter, while in sum­mer the tar­mac can get blis­ter­ingly hot.

The hardy pooch has only ever once called in sick, af­ter suf­fer­ing a leg frac­ture chas­ing an owl. Thank­fully he was only off for a few weeks and soon re­sumed his fa­mil­iar po­si­tion on the side of the run­way – much to the de­light of the pi­lots.

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