K-9 Piper, the airport wildlife control canine who was beloved by many for his exploits on social media, has died following a battle with cancer.
Piper’s handler, Brian Edwards, announced the news in posts on Instagram and Facebook on Jan. 3.
“It is with the ultimate sadness I must report the passing of my best friend and love of my life,” he wrote. “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.”
Piper and Edwards were featured in the Fall 2017 issue of Vertical 911, in which Edwards described how he trained Piper to work with him at Cherry Capital Airport in northern Michigan. As a wildlife control canine, the energetic border collie helped keep the airport clear of birds and other animals that could threaten the safety of aircraft.
Edwards recalled that Piper took naturally to working around airplanes, although he was slower to warm up to helicopters. However, “by positive reinforcement and showing him that there’s nothing to be afraid of, we got past that,” Edwards said.
Images of Piper posing with U.S. Coast Guard helicopters subsequently went viral, leading to features on major TV news networks and media outlets such as USA Today. Piper’s legions of fans were able to follow his exploits on the @airportk9 accounts on Instagram and Facebook. At the time of his death, Piper had more than 90,000 followers on Instagram.
“People love Piper, even though they’ll never meet him, they’ll never see him in person, they have no vested interest in him other than a couple of posts a week,” Edwards told Vertical 911 last year. “That to me is just really incredible. Obviously I love Piper, so to be able to share him and our experience together and how we’ve grown through the past couple of years has been a lot of fun.”