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Stowaway Kitty Home Safe and Sound

Hangar cat accidentally shipped to Panama

Piper, the stowaway cat
Piper on the prowl again at Sullivan Field's community hangar.

May 9, 2012 - Many local airports have a "hangar cat" that, along with serving as an airport mascot, helps keep aircraft-damaging mice at bay. Sullivan Field (27LL), a small, private airfield near St. Louis, is one of them.

Her name is Piper, so named by Kathy Merkan, wife of Mike Merkan, EAA 560086, after the calico kitten appeared about 12 years ago outside the former 30,000-square-foot community hangar - a former cattle barn that shelters about 30 recreational aircraft of all types. Airport residents fed and watered her regularly and Piper decided to stick around and in no time became a permanent fixture at 27LL.

Pilots grew accustomed to Piper, who would greet them after landing on the 1,500-foot grass strip, or arriving by car at the airport. And she more than earned her stay by keeping the local rodent population in check.

Then one day this past March, Piper went missing. Everyone searched throughout the building and surrounding area but found no sign of her. "We feared the worst," Mike said, figuring a coyote or other predator got a hold of her. "She always greeted all the pilots and stayed close to us. After a week, we gave her up for lost."

A couple of weeks later, Mike received a call from a Carlos Pastorino in Panama. "Mike, they have your cat in Panama City, and she is okay." Suddenly, the light bulb went off: Piper had stowed away in a shipping container that an airport resident used to send an airplane to a buyer in Panama by the name of Capt. Miguel Ramos.

"Piper must have snuck past all of us and gotten into the container," he explained. The container went by rail to New York City, and then was shipped to Panama, where it traveled through the Panama Canal to Panama City. Piper emerged when the container was opened.

"Incredibly, 28 days later Piper made it without any food or water," Mike continued. The people who discovered her reported a thin-but-okay kitty, and immediately took her to an animal hospital where she was nursed back to full health.

Arrangements were soon made to ship Piper back to NYC, and Mike flew commercial to JFK for the pick-up. Despite a few customs snarls and red tape, officials brought Piper to him. "She recognized my voice and was calming down from a stressful situation; she even purred," Mike said.

They were soon on their way back to 27LL. Piper and Mike arrived at Sullivan Field to a big welcome home, and aircraft owners were relieved that their planes would soon be safe again from plane-eating mice.

"If we ever do this (ship a plane) again we will be making sure the kitty stays home," Mike said assuredly. He thanked Capt. Ramos and Inmaculada Pinzon from the animal hospital for their extra efforts in taking good care of their Piper "gatita" (Spanish for female kitten).

"I think she can even meow in Spanish now."

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