Piper – Remembering the Airport K9 and His Northern Michigan Legacy

Photos by John Russell and the Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team

If you are a Traverse City resident, it’s very likely that Piper, the Airport K-9 touched your life in some way.  Two years ago, on Wednesday, January 3, 2018, Piper, a 9-year-old border collie, passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Piper died in his owner and handler’s arms, Brian Edwards.

Piper by John Russell

Today we remember his legacy and celebrate his service. Here are some previously written thoughts and videos from Traverse City residents and businesses about this beloved collie that we will hold in our hearts forever.

by Cherry Capital Airport K9 Team

The Peninsula loved Piper – By Lisa Maxbauer

As snowy owls return to Old Mission Peninsula this time of year from the Arctic, I can’t help but think of Piper, the airport K9. The border collie— tasked with chasing away wildlife on the runways at Cherry Capital Airport — raced into our hearts (and Internet stardom) over the last few years, before passing away in early January 2018.

I remember the first time my three kids met Piper in real life. It was on the base of Old Mission Peninsula at the NMC BBQ. We were heading back to our car, rounded the corner, and came face-to-face with Piper. He was in his signature ski goggles and was with his human companion Brian Edwards. We were star struck. They graciously posed for photos, and we left feeling luckier than if we had won the cakewalk. Afterward, I shared our snapshot on social media. I immediately noticed comments from people far from the area who knew and loved this special dog, too. Piper’s appeal was far-reaching.

There were many times Piper brightened our day: seeing him serve as grand marshal for a Cherry Festival parade, or visiting with him downtown at the Open Space as the city celebrated winning the distinction of being named Best Midwest Town by Midwest Living magazine.

When my family saw Piper for the opening party of the new North Flight Aero Med hangar at the airport, we didn’t realize then that he was ill. We watched him greet a long line of guests and play fetch with a tennis ball. Everyone left happy, clutching a Piper trading card. Then one afternoon after the holidays in 2018, my husband, Matt, was attending a networking event at the airport. There came the news no one saw coming: Piper had been battling cancer and would need to be put to sleep. A painful sigh rolled across the crowd. Hours later came the official online announcement of Piper’s passing. As I tucked the kids into bed, I revealed the somber update. My boys grew quiet. One wiped away a tear.

The night ended with “Prayers for Piper.”

I know there were so many families who felt this loss. We hold a place in our hearts for this four-legged friend. And we are grateful to his handler Brian, who recognized Piper’s abilities and shared them with the community and the world. In a time when people around the nation had trouble agreeing on anything, everyone agreed on Piper: we were all proud to call him one of our own!

“Piper brought so much to our community – pride, excitement, security and an example of how to have fun on the job. He will be forever missed but most of all, treasured. What an incredible example he showed us all of how we come together as a community to cherish something no matter our differences. Thank you, Piper!” – Kim Smith

by Cherry Capital Airport K9 Team

No Ordinary Dog – By Abigail Paul

Piper was no ordinary dog; he was special. For about three years, Piper had been working with Brian Edwards to keep the runways of the Cherry Capital Airport free of wildlife, particularly birds, and safe for the planes to fly. It was a tremendous job, one that required lots of protective wear and training so that Piper was not afraid of the aircraft. His favorite animal to chase was a snowy owl.

As if spending his days chasing animals off the runway wasn’t enough, Piper sure did some other cool things. He came to fame on the internet in 2016 because of pictures of him in his epic goggles. In 2016, Piper also got the chance to go skydiving as a part of a Spike’s K9 Fund charity event. I, for one, can say that skydiving has been on my bucket list for a while now. Still, I was definitely more impressed to hear that Michigan dog Piper had already done it!          

Having a dog to chase away unwanted animals on the runway isn’t something that all airports have, and I feel honored having Piper’s service in our community. Having a dad that flies a lot through that airport, I was comforted knowing that he would always land and take off safely because of Piper.

In honor of Piper, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station flew the American flag, later taking it down and presenting it to Edwards. Edwards says Piper’s last day was pain-free and filled with love from friends and family. I can only hope that wherever he is right now, he is happy, healthy, and having fun chasing snowy owls once again.

“Piper has become a legend in his own right as one of the world’s most famous K-9s. He was a staple in the fabric of our community, and it was an honor for any of us to have spent time with him. I especially enjoyed having him in National Cherry Festival Cherry Royale Parade as the first-ever animal Grand Marshal. Gone but never forgotten, thank you for all you did, Piper.”

-Jeff Needham, Director of Parades/National Cherry Festival
by John Russell

The videos show the true essence of Traverse City’s beloved Airport K-9 that we miss so much. 

“It’s hard enough to lose a family pet, but to lose a dog the whole community loved is heartbreaking. We’re so proud of the service he provided and our thoughts are with Brian, his owner.”

-Kate Parvel

From January 3, 2019, Airport K9 Facebook post:

“Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you’ll never go wrong.” — The Sandlot

By Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team

Two Years. Oh, how quickly the time has passed. Life moves on, but the memories never fade. This little legend lives on in our hearts forever.

Love you bud. Keep runnin’.

Please visit http://www.airportk9.org or https://www.facebook.com/airportk9 for more stories and photos on Piper.

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