There’s a big difference between animals that have been domesticated and those that have not. Cats and dogs, for example, are significantly different than bears and wolves. But with that being said, that doesn’t mean that we all can’t peacefully coexist and learn something from the wild animals that are found in nature. A case-in-point example is a six-year situation that took place in Juneau, Alaska, not too long ago. It was a situation that could have been met with fear. Instead, it was met with tolerance and understanding – and what took place between 2003 and 2009 is still something that sticks with the Alaska community and continues to shape it.
What you’re about to read is the ultimate story of how much you can learn from a beautiful creature that’s normally feared and misunderstood. We understand if it seems like a work of fiction, but we assure you that it is not. What you’re about to read is 100 percent true. On that note, we present you the story of Romeo – and how he brought a community much closer together.
1. Porching It
Flashback to 2003 – Juneau, Alaska. Wildlife photographer Nick Jans was sitting on his back porch enjoying the scenery with his dog, Dakotah. Suddenly, something emerged out of the forest.
2. The Wolf
What emerged was a wild black wolf, a predator with the potential to cause great harm to humans… and their pets. So as you may imagine, there was a high level of concern when Jans’ dog ran out to meet the wolf. Jans watched anxiously as Dakotah and the wolf checked each other out.
3. Wolf Behavior
Wolves usually feed on other animals, and a dog certainly wouldn’t be considered off limits. Regardless, wolves are wild animals, so their behavior can be unpredictable around humans and pets. Generally, it’s recommended that they’re left alone.
4. Play Date
Wolfs are predators, so there was almost the expectation that it was going to attack Dakotah upon meeting. But it didn’t. Instead, it started to play with the curious dog. Jans was even able to put his wildlife photography skills to work, snapping several photos of the two animals together. This certainly wouldn’t be the last time that Jans would take pictures of the wolf interacting with other animals… and humans too.
Nick Jans took to calling the wolf “Romeo.” And much to the joy of Dakotah, Romeo stayed in the area – always making time for a play date.
6. A Friend to All Dogs
While Dakotah may have been Romeo’s first dog buddy, it certainly wasn’t his only one. No, as Romeo became more comfortable in the area, he made several other canine friends. In fact, Romeo became an honorary member of the community itself. His favorite play spot was Mendenhall Glacier Park. Conveniently, Jans‘ home was close to the park, so he was able to observe and document the wolf’s behavior often.
7. It’s Just Romeo
Romeo didn’t always get a warm welcoming from the locals. As you’d imagine, seeing a wild wolf up close alarmed people and their pets. But once they realized that Romeo meant no harm, any uneasiness ceased. The locals came to know and appreciate Romeo, as if he was just another one of the dogs.
8. It’s Play Time
The locals eventually welcomed Romeo because they quickly learned that all he wanted to do was play. And his favorite playmates were none other than the other area dogs. He played with all different breeds of dogs, from labs to retrievers.
9. Man’s Best Friend?
Romeo didn’t just play with Juneau-area dogs, but he became a friend of the people too. In fact, Jans has stated that Romeo would bring toys out of the forest and bring them up to humans, perhaps wanting to be played with how just as how dogs are played with. Now that’s one perceptive wolf.
10. Styrofoam Float
One of Romeo’s favorite toys became a Styrofoam float. He would take it up to the locals for a game of fetch. And, being that it was Romeo, the locals almost always obliged.
11. Taking a Load Off
Playing fetch and loving people wasn’t the only dog behavior that Romeo exhibited. He was also often seen lying down just like a dog, relaxing and panting with them after a good play date.
Any other community and who knows how the people would have reacted. Romeo could have been shot out of fear or avoided altogether. So while Romeo showed great understanding and tolerance, the Juneau community – and its dogs – showed it equally in welcoming the wolf.
13. In Harmony
It’s not often that three species – especially one that’s know for predatory behavior – can get along in harmony. But as Romeo, the dogs and the people soon learned, it is possible.
14. Six Years
That’s how long Romeo stuck around for – six years. That’s six years of playing with dogs, interacting with humans and bringing joy and happiness to the locals.
15. Bond with the Wild
Alaska is often referred to as “America’s last frontier” – and Romeo served as that bond between the wild and civilization. Throughout his six years, he became a community staple.
16. Check Out the Wolf!
Romeo became such a fixture that locals would go out of their way to visit his favorite stomping grounds, all just to get a glimpse of him. And, of course, they’d often spot him playing with dogs or getting dog owners to play fetch with him too.
17. Still Cautious
The locals knew Romeo and loved how friendly he was. However, that didn’t stop strangers or out-of-towners from keeping a safe distance from the wolf. Usually, they’d stay back about 100 yards or so to give Romeo his space. Some of them eventually came around, realizing that he meant no harm.
18. Loved by All
Romeo was much more than just a local fixture, he was loved. He was the adopted animal of the community. Aside from his many dog friends, he also had many human friends. If you just took the time to give the wolf a chance, you’d leave with a new special pal.
19. The Tolerant Wolf
If you thought that Romeo made some enemies – both dog and human – during his time in Juneau, you’d be wrong. That’s because of his relaxed nature and tolerance that he always exhibited. Not once did he show any signs of hostility toward any human or any dog.
20. Beginning of the End
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And while it was an unforgettable six years with Romeo, things eventually took a turn for the community and for the wolf. People began to wonder why he wasn’t coming around any more. They were shocked and saddened when they found out why.
21. The Tragedy
In 2009 or 2010, about six years after making his first appearance in the Juneau area, Romeo was killed by hunters. He was killed for sport, as so many other wolves are in North America and elsewhere around the world.
22. Memorializing Romeo
Following Romeo’s death, the community rallied to honor their furry friend. It held a special memorial for him at Mendenhall Lake in November 2010 and even created a special plaque to display so that his memory would live on for generations, inspiring others.
23. The Plaque
The plaque honoring Romeo can be seen in Juneau today. It reads “Romeo (2003-2009): The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.”
24. Near the Glacier, His Favorite Place
Romeo’s plaque was created by local artist R.T. Wallen. It’s located near Mendenhall Glacier, which was fittingly one of Romeo’s favorite stomping grounds. It’s visited often by those who knew and loved Romeo.
25. A Wolf Called Romeo
Nick Jans would later author a 2014 book, titled A Wolf Called Romeo, which detailed Romeo’s story – and his impact – on the Juneau community. The book tells Romeo’s story not only from Jans’ perspective, but from that of other locals as well. It also includes information on wolves to help readers understand the animals better.
26. Understanding Wolves
While Jans documented much of Romeo’s six years in Juneau through photographs, he says his book isn’t about him, but about the community. Jans, a former wolf hunter himself, has credited Romeo with implementing a new level of understanding between humans and nature.
Jans has also stated that he’s let any anger go toward Romeo’s killers. He’s stated that while Romeo’s death still saddens him, holding on to anger doesn’t do anybody any good.
28. Romeo – A Juneau Staple
Aside from the memorial plaque, Romeo’s memory lives on in Juneau. A beer has been named after him, as has a coffee, two city streets and a bar. Magazine articles have been written about him and pictures of the black wolf hang in many resident homes. Tour guides also share the wolf’s story with thousands of visitors every year. Aside from Jans’ book, several other authors have written the story of Romeo.
29. Black Wolf Special Fund Project
Jans is chairman of the Black Wolf Committee, which has implemented the Black Wolf Special Funding Project. The initiative aims to further memorialize Romeo and bring a greater level of understanding about wolves.
30. The Romeo Exhibit
The Black Wolf Funding Project wants to create an exhibit inside the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, featuring a mount of Romeo, recordings of his howls, footprint imprints and more. It hopes to open in November 2016, provided it can raise the necessary funds.
31. Rest in Peace Romeo
While Romeo is gone, he’s hardly forgotten. His presence helped define a community, and that impact will be honored for generations and generations to come. You may not be able to see Romeo wandering around Mendenhall Glacier and playing with dogs and humans any longer, you don’t have to look far to see what kind of an impact the black wolf made on an entire community. Rest in peace, Romeo.