Malta’s Cliff-Diving Dog Captures Hearts Around the World

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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!”

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St. Peter’s Pool on a September afternoon.

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Agave flowers and prickly pear cactus plants dot the landscape of Delimara (left). On the right, Titti fetches her beloved water bottle.

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Titti anxiously awaits Carmelo’s hand signal giving her the okay to jump into the water, as swimmers look on.

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Titti and Carmelo do elegant synchronized dives, and she’ll even dive into the water solo to retrieve a water bottle. “When Titti doesn’t feel engaged enough,” Carmelo explained, “she drops the bottle into the water so that I have to dive in to get it. Then she dives in too.”

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Carmelo’s and Titti’s splashes, left and right, respectively.

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Titti has amassed a large following of fans from around the world.

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Carmelo has put his and Titti’s newfound fame to good use, participating in charity walks to help raise money for needy animals in Malta.

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Seeking a sunnier spot, Titti and Carmelo move to the other side of the pool (left). We found the celebrity Titti to be friendly, but not overly interested in her fan base. As we chatted, Titti chewed on a water bottle in a determined fashion (right), eager to expend more energy through another dive.

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Shawn and me, posing with the celebrity duo.

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Just a sampling of Titti’s fans!

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Titti – always waiting for Carmelo to toss the water bottle!

Video of this Experience:

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Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Follow Titti’s and Carmelo’s delightful dives on the duo’s Facebook page.
  • When the weather is warm enough, Titti and Carmelo practice diving at St. Peter’s Pool, on the Delimara Peninsula near the popular fishing village of Marsaxlokk in southwestern Malta. To get there, we rode the bus to central Marsaxlokk, then walked about 20 minutes through the countryside.
  • Need more trip-planning inspiration for Malta? From olive harvesting, to festas, and sailing, this index contains all my posts from Malta.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

15 Comments on “Malta’s Cliff-Diving Dog Captures Hearts Around the World

  1. Titti is so cute!! We just love him. We are enjoying our little Dot, a Jack Russell, Fox Terrier cross called a Bodeguero. I don´t think she would like cliff diving though as she doesn´t like water. Jumps away from the waves at the beach and walks around puddles. Thanks for sharing and glad you got to meet them.

    • Darlene, if Dot is part Jack Russell, I bet she must be a bundle of energy too? I’d also never seen a dog so enamored with the water, let alone diving, as Titti. Titti’s owner and ‘dad’ Carmelo says they’ll soon be featured on a British program about the special bond between humans and animals. I hope I’ll be able to find it online! Thanks for your comment, and hope you’re enjoying a sunny Sunday in Spain!

  2. How wonderful that Titti’s owner is using their fame to do good works for other animals in Malta! Such a beautiful story. How did you feel after meeting Titti?

    • How did I feel? A few weeks on, I still grin ear to ear when I see footage of that energetic dog doing her thing. I would’ve thought such jumps would tire Titti out, but she kept urging Carmelo to take another dive. I’m glad Titti and Carmelo have found the perfect companions in each other, as it seems they both have boundless amount of energy.

    • Cornelia, I think Titti’s just earned her fame in the last year or so, but in a small country like Malta, word travels quickly. Wishing you a wonderful start to the new week!

  3. Nice article Trish – very well done, cute, and interesting. But, Gigi could give her a run for her money. Dad

    • Hi Gerard, glad you enjoyed seeing Titti in action. :) Here’s hoping your New York autumn has been relaxing. Did the leaves put on a brilliant show this season?

      • The leaves are just starting to change colors and fall from the trees. There will be a lot more color soon.

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