It was a sweltering September afternoon on the sunny island of Malta when we headed to St. Peter’s Pool. With its dramatic limestone cliffs and access to the Mediterranean, St. Peter’s isn’t a pool in the conventional sense. And at this point, it should ceremoniously be renamed ‘Titti’s Pool’ in honor of its most famous diver: a Jack Russell Terrier dog who has captured the attention of animal lovers worldwide.
Upon reaching a point overlooking the picturesque swimming venue, I had already spotted Titti – a stocky, black, white and brown ball of energy. St. Peter’s Pool is photogenic in its own right, but the swarm of swimmers sporting mobile phones and cameras instead tried to capture Titti’s every move. This proved to be tricky because of the dog’s sprinting maneuvers and high jumps alongside her master’s ankles.
Anticipating her owner’s hand signal, Titti waited at the jagged cliff’s edge, an impatient aura about her. With her master’s motion now executed, her stubby little legs launched her into the azure water below. Titti’s makeshift paparazzi documented the split-second maneuver, and applause and yelps of delight followed as Titti’s head emerged from the foamy water. In her mouth, she carried a prized plastic water bottle which she’d just fetched out of the sea.
Like countless others, I discovered Titti the diving wonder via social media. It’s not surprising that the seven-year-old canine has become a sensation in Malta – a tiny island nation of 400,000 people. But in the last year, Titti’s images have also gone global, reaching British television stations like ITV and BBC, and American video channel Insider. A Brazilian television crew even recently crossed the Atlantic to film Titti in action. (Note: Titti’s coverage starts at 1:58.) And on this day, we also met an enamored young Hungarian woman, herself a Jack Russell owner, who had flocked to this remote pool just to meet Titti.
Determined to shake Titti’s paw before we moved from Malta, I got in touch with her owner and diving partner, Carmelo Abela, via Titti’s Facebook page. Coordinating a meet-up date up wasn’t a problem, because Carmelo and Titti go to St. Peter’s Pool six days a week during the summer. They make the 4-km trip to the Delimara Peninsula from their home in the town of Żejtun.
“We ride here on a motorbike, with Titti in my backpack,” Carmelo said smiling, with a wet Titti cradled in his arms. The Summer Olympics in Brazil had just ended and Carmelo was wearing Rio-themed swimwear. He also sported the bronze tan of a regular Mediterranean sun seeker.
Apparently, it took a leap of faith – or two – before Titti felt comfortable cliff diving.
“We started off on less high cliffs and ledges,” he explained. “First, I would jump in, and soon Titti followed me. Eventually, we went on to try higher and higher ledges. Now Titti only likes St. Peter’s Pool – she refuses to dive elsewhere!”
Taking a break from our chat, Carmelo motioned to Titti that it was time for them to do a tandem dive. Excited beyond belief, Titti parted from Carmelo, and ran around the rim of the cliff to her designated launching point. She was so energized that she actually plunged into the water a split second faster than Carmelo. When the two recovered at the water’s surface, Titti instantly looked for Carmelo’s face. Reuniting, they swam together toward the cliff’s edge. Carmelo gave her a boost so that she was again at the top of the limestone rim, ready for another round or two of synchronized dives.
Although now a Maltese sensation, Titti actually originates from the nearby Italian island of Sicily.
“After seeing the Jim Carrey movie, ‘The Mask’, I was encouraged to get a Jack Russell Terrier. My son helped brainstorm names. He chose the name ‘Titti’ from the movie, ‘Hotel for Dogs,’” Carmelo said.
“When I bought her in Sicily seven years ago, Jack Russells weren’t common in Malta. Now, the breed is really popular here. People often ask me if she will have puppies.”
Titti once had a litter of six, but much to the disappointment of locals who’d hoped to adopt a descendant with Titti’s diving prowess, the pups didn’t show an interest in diving.
To say that Titti is extremely attached to Carmelo is an understatement. Carmelo told us that she’s jealous of other dogs – even of Carmelo’s wife.
“My wife jokes that she’s going to remove her picture from our wedding photo albums and replace Titti’s face there,” he said, laughing.
“Titti actually sleeps between us, and during the day, we spend so much time together. My wife jokes that I ‘only come home to eat’”.
Despite an apparent playful rivalry between the ladies, Carmelo said that his wife shares his profound love for animals.
“My wife wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
With cooler weather just around the corner, I was curious how Titti stays in shape during the off season, when swimming in the Mediterranean is simply too cold.
“In winter, I take her into the countryside for walks. I throw sticks and she chases after them. Otherwise, Titti would run circles in the house! She has so much energy!”
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.