Bird control dog on its way to Kenai airport

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2010

Olivia Pfeifer is hoping that birds at the Kenai Municipal Airport will fly the coop this summer once the airport bird control dog gets to town next month.

Pfeifer, last year's Caring for the Kenai winner, came up with the idea to use a trained border collie to chase away the seagulls, sandhill cranes, geese, swans and ducks that congregate on the runways of Kenai Municipal Airport.

"There's been a lot of problems with birds on the runways," Pfeifer said, explaining the impetus for her idea. "It's to save the birds so they don't have to shoot them."

In the summer of 2008, some 840 birds had to be scared away at Kenai Airport and 48 were shot to mitigate the hazards to aircraft.

After months of negotiating with city and airport officials, Pfeifer's award-winning idea is taking off.

There were debarment issues with the original company that was going to provide the trained collie but the Kenai Watershed Forum recently found another company to supply the bird-hazing service.

Dog and Whistle Goose Control in Auburn, Calif. will be leasing a dog to the city of Kenai for the summer.

"We obtain our dogs through rescue organizations and shelters and identify which ones will be good goose control dogs," said owner Brett Brogan.

He explained that the concept of canines harassing birds off property is based on predation.

"Birds see dogs as natural predators," he said. "It's a humane effort to control runways."

Bird hazing or harassment tactics have been used nationwide to scare birds off properties and prevent bird strikes.

Bird strikes are harmful for both the animals and the aircrafts. In these collisions, birds can be killed by the planes and have been known to cause fatal accidents for the aircrafts.

While birds on the runway can cause problems for departures and arrivals, fowl in the air around airports can too.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 92 percent of bird strikes occur at 3,000 feet above the ground.

That statistic holds true for the Kenai Airport.

Jeff Sharp, VP of operations for Era Aviation, said that many birds tend to circle just north of the Kenai runway at some 1,000 feet in the air in the air.

"It puts them right in the bullseye area approaching our oncoming traffic," he said.

While there have been no reported bird strikes at the Kenai Municipal Airport for Era Aviation, it is something that concerns the airline.

"Seasonally we have close calls with migratory waterfowl in the vicinity of Kenai Airport," Sharp said. "Anything local authorities can do to keep birds out of the vicinity is welcome."

Dog and Whistle Goose Control currently has five collies that work on golf courses and agricultural fields in California.

Brogan said he will be bringing up two collies, Rose and Sweep, to see which one takes to the Alaska job better. He will then provide training to Pfeifer, who will be the dog's official handler.

Once trained, the dog will have its work cut out for it.

Pfeifer said the collie will be working some 30 hours a week at the Kenai Municipal Airport, as well as providing on-call services. She said she also plans to do a demo with the dog at the Soldotna Airport.

"It's never been done in Alaska before," Pfeifer said.

If her four-month pilot program is successful in Kenai this summer she said she plans to share her results with other airports across Alaska.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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