"Titian has a mission," says Christina Temelini of Titian, her blue merle Australian Shepherd. Not only is Titan helping to raise awareness about canine cancer and the need for research; he is bringing comfort and hope to children and adults who are inspired by the story of this remarkable dog's own battle with cancer.
This past summer, Christina and Titian, who is a Pet Partner/Delta Therapy Dog, were asked to participate in Operation Purple at the Channel 3 Kids Camp in Andover, Connecticut. Nearly 300 military children age 7 to 17 years took part in a week-long camp session. While several therapy dogs participated, many of the children gravitated to Titian. "They asked so many questions," says Christina, a nurse-midwife who lives in southern Connecticut. "They wanted to be with him because they could relate to him and the many obstacles he's faced. Interacting with Titian got the children talking about how hard it is for them, especially when a parent is deployed. We learned these kids don't generally talk about that. It was wonderful that they could open up with him."
To see Titian today, you'd never suspect that this handsome nine-year-old dog was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2009. "The first neurologist we saw was so negative about the prognosis, we decided to get a second opinion. A friend and her husband are vets— we all graduated from UPenn—and they helped me research meningioma. We kept seeing Dr. McDonnell mentioned as being the expert about meningioma in dogs, so I emailed him. He got right back to me and asked me to overnight Titian's MRI to him. He read the films and called me Christmas Eve to say that he could see us the Monday after New Year's. After examining Titian, he gave us three options, and explained the science, what he could do to help and the possible outcomes. He was so compassionate and what he presented was science-based; we knew we'd made the right choice."
Christina and her husband, Steve, opted for surgery, followed by 17 days of radiation. "He's had 2 MRIs since then and there's been no tumor regrowth."
Awards & A Very Important Walk
Just nine months after his surgery, Titian received the highest rating possible when he was recertified as a Pet Partner/Delta Therapy Dog, approved to participate in visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities. The program, which was established in 1990, was set up to ensure that "both ends of the leash"— people and animals—are well-prepared to participate in animal-assisted activity and animal-assisted therapy programs. Pet Partners' Therapy Animal Program is the only national registry that requires volunteer training and screening of animal-handler teams.
In 2010, Titian also won an award as the canine mascot for the ARF! Fund (Animals: Respect and Friendship Fund) in Middlesex County, Connecticut. When Bill Berloni—renowned animal agent and trainer of theatrical dogs including Sandy in "Annie"—presented Titian with the award, he was so impressed with him that later he recommended Titian for a role in two commercials for a Connecticut bank.
"With all the different things he had to learn to do for the commercials," says Christina, "it's clear that his surgery didn't affect his cognition!"
Dr. McDonnell continues to be part of Titian's life—and not just for check-ups. He sponsored Titian in the 2 Million Dogs Walk for Cancer on November 4, 2012 in Madison, Connecticut. The walk is part of a nationwide initiative that began with a promise to raise awareness of canine cancer one mile, one city, and one person at time. The 2 Million Dogs Foundation is committed to discovering the common links between canine and human cancers and the causes of these cancers through comparative oncology research.
"Thanks to Dr. McDonnell, Titian is working on his mission, and making a difference in the lives of others," concludes Christina.