Wolves are some of the most beautiful creatures on Earth. They’re strong and intelligent animals that move in packs and are fiercely loyal to their companions. It’s hard to find a more fascinating creature.
But everyone knows they are dangerous predators that should be avoided whenever possible — for their protection and ours. It’s just the respectful and safe thing to do.
But in 2004, Alaskan wildlife photographer Nick Jans and his dog Dakotah crossed paths with one of these animals outside their Juneau home… and sparked a chain of events that would change their lives forever.
Nick Jans was sitting on his back porch with his dog, when a wild wolf emerged from the forest. Without warning, and before he could do anything, his dog ran out to meet the strange animal.
It was as if something had drawn these two animals, who by all means would never have met otherwise, to each other. Nick sat back with anticipation, as he didn’t know whether the wolf was going to attack in an automatic fit of rage or kindly embrace his unassuming little pooch.
All he could do was watch helplessly as his canine friend got closer to an animal that was likely a predator and hoped that, perhaps, of all things, had just made a good friend that would be around and visit him here for several more years to come.
Then something amazing happened. Instead of attacking, the two animals started to play together. He couldn’t believe his eyes and was frozen in shock.
Nick felt as though he could finally let all of the anxiety, that had so briskly grabbed a hold of his being and shaken him to his very core, settle down. It appeared as though the two animals, despite their obvious differences to any onlooker, were not going to enter a battle for the ages, but were in fact and much to his delight, but were instead about to become really good friends.
He could practically imagine them going for walks with each other and even having each other over for dinner. Perhaps, they would frolic together in the woods.
The wolf, who would later be named Romeo, stayed in the area. Nick devoted more and more of his time to documenting the animal. It was clear that this wolf was no ordinary animal.
Romeo proved not to fall into the typical category in which humans place wolves. Instead, Nick began to think of him more as a cartoon-like friendly animal. His coarse fur and knowing eyes were truly stunning; this was an animal who was much stronger than the average family dog, and yet he didn’t seem to be aggressive at all.
Nick began to trust Romeo, and, it seemed, that Romeo did the same to him.
Romeo became a regular member of the community and was known for interacting with other dogs at Mendenhall Glacier Park.
Not only was Romeo breaking down every preconceived notion about wolves that Nick had ever had in his lifetime in becoming friends with his pooch, but he was starting to prove that his ability to befriend other canines was there, as well.
Many people at the dog parks would stare in amazement, as if they knew what they were seeing when Romeo would interact with the other dogs, was pretty much a miracle. You can see the friendly look on his face as he interacts with other pooches as if that was what he was put on this Earth to do.
People were alarmed at the sight of the big wolf at first. After all, wouldn’t you be alarmed if an animal as big as Romeo came bounding up to your dog or child?
Many of the families at the dog park would stop and stare, as if they were also anticipating Romeo acting out in a fit of aggression. These people’s feelings toward him would typically change at the drop of a hat, once they realized that he was by all means and in all likelihood, more calm than their dogs were.
It wasn’t uncommon for many of these people to also take his picture, because they knew none of their friends would believe their strange encounter otherwise. Not to mention, they would be getting an outright amazing photograph out of the experience!
But soon everyone realized that Romeo just wanted to play. He was a softie at heart and meant no harm to anyone.
It was as if both Romeo and all of the other dogs that he would meet at the park knew that they just wanted to be friends. They would let their guard down almost immediately, because they knew that he had a good heart and just wanted to play with them while they were in one another’s company.
Playing is such an important part of being a dog and it’s only made better when you have someone else to enjoy playtime with. That is the reason, after all, that so many people bring their pooches to social settings like a dog park.
Romeo became comfortable with humans, too. “The wolf would bring out toys that he’d stashed,” Nick said in an interview. How cute is that?
It was just so freaking adorable for Nick to see Romeo being good friends with his pooch that he almost forgot how important it could be for him to have some good human interaction as well.
The bond between man and dog is, perhaps, just as, if not more, important than the bond with other canines. Nick was hopeful to prove that the same bond could exist between humans and wolves, too. There had to be a reason that the term “raised by wolves” existed in the first place, he would often think to himself about the subject.
“One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to [my friend] Harry to throw.” It’s like he thought he was one of the dogs.
Nick would tell anyone who was willing to listen to him talk about Romeo the wolf. He knew that having toys was an important aspect of being a dog, because dogs enjoy playing around more than humans do. Luckily, Romeo proved that he was capable of wanting to play with the toys that he provided for him.
Nick imagined that all of the time he was spending with his pooch and other canines had been rubbing off on him in the most positive way possible. Their friendship was so seamless that he didn’t even know if he could take responsibility.
“He clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs.” How neat is that? He clearly was able to observe the way the humans and dogs interacted and picked up on how he could fit in.
Understanding how to fit in with the other dogs was likely something he had learned from his mother at birth. Wolves are raised in families that fall under the pack mentality, meaning they realize the importance of family and friends. This is understood as a means and a way to survive in the wild.
Being alone and rendered defenseless in the wild is never a good scenario. So, making good friends at the dog park was probably something that Romeo knew he had to do immediately in order to survive. Otherwise, anything could’ve happened to him in that unfamiliar territory.
“It wasn’t just our understanding and tolerance. It was the combination of his and ours and the dogs’.”
Wolves are extremely intuitive creatures, meaning they are capable of knowing how people are feeling at any given time. Nick believed that it was as if he could read that he wanted to live in a friendly environment, without the worry of common hostility or violence taking place. He likely sensed this from Nick’s pooch, as well.
If Romeo wasn’t feeling threatened by anything in the house, he would have no other reason to lash out against them. This would create a stable living environment for the new family and best of all, no one would have to live in fear.
“We were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.”
Everyone shares the basic desire to live in a peaceful setting. Whether that means always getting along and never getting into any sort of fight or even getting into the occasional scuffle, it is completely up to the people and animals themselves.
Luckily, for Nick, Romeo, and Nick’s pooch, it never proved to be an issue that they would have to think about too hard. They knew that they could be roommates for as long as they needed.
Romeo stuck around for six years, playing with the dogs and humans in the area.
During those six years, Romeo’s love for Nick and his pooch remained as strong as ever. They never could have realized that such a chance encounter would lead to such a lasting bond, friendship, or even family. All they ever expected was for the two animals to see one another and hopefully not get themselves into a scrappy brawl.
The animals could sense kindness out of one another, though, and that was the important take away from all of it. Nick realized that it was extremely important not to judge a book by its cover, even if it’s the easy thing to do.
In that time, he became a symbol of the community’s bond with the wild.
You want people to know that you are friendly and accepting of nature. Turning someone or something away just because it strikes fear in your heart does not necessarily mean that it’s the right answer.
It started with the interaction between Nick’s pooch and Romeo and was extended far beyond as he integrated himself seamlessly within their community. That was something that even people could notice from afar. When nature and man can live in harmony is when we have achieved our maximum potential to lead fulfilling lives after all.
Romeo became a local fixture. Residents would often say “I’m going to the lake to see the wolf.”
That’s why Nick knew that Romeo was such an important part of building that local community. When people go to the lake to visit a wolf on their own volition, it is a sign that something great is happening.
Normally, people would do everything they could to possibly avoid having any kind of interaction with a wolf, but they knew that they and their pets could trust Romeo. That became a staple for many of those families, and they cherished every second of it, too. Seeing Romeo up close was just something that local people knew they had to do.
Locals knew Romeo was very friendly, but strangers usually wouldn’t dare get closer than a hundred yards.
This was only because of human nature, of course. It was exactly what Nick had experienced that day that he and his pooch met Romeo for the first time.
It is only natural to feel threatened by a wild animal, especially a wolf. This likely because of old fairytales such as The Three Little Pigs that make people feel afraid of strange animals like wolves. Luckily, Nick and many other people were able to see past that and become close with Romeo. He was a sweet and playful wolf after all and he deserved for that to be known by everyone who met him.
Romeo captured the hearts of everyone who knew him, human and canine alike.
It was clear that the bond between man and animal, and animal and community had been forged while Romeo lived with Nick and his pooch.
It was practically impossible for people not to fall in love with that wolf right from the second they met him. He just had this kind nature about him that was completely undeniable and the people who came into contact with him knew that from the start. Everyone who encountered Romeo wanted to be friends with him and he wanted to be friends with them, as well. It was a two way street that made total sense.
Nick said he “was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start, as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn.”
Romeo was also the perfect type of animal to compare to a unicorn, because his ability to get along with anyone and anything that he came into contact with was, essentially as rare as a unicorn.
Nick wasn’t afraid to tell people that he felt this way about Romeo, because everyone who met him knew that about him anyway. You would have been hard pressed to find someone who could find even one negative thing to say about that amazing wolf. He was as unique as they come and that meant something to Nick and the people in that community.
Then one day, tragedy struck.
The worst part about the horrific happening that took place was that it was completely avoidable. Everything seemed to be okay, and everyone had gone on assuming that nothing could happen to Romeo. They were going to be given a big dose of reality, because that was far from the truth.
As much as everyone loved and adored the wolf for all of his greatness, there is always someone or something who doesn’t end up seeing it the same way that you do and that is what makes something and this occurrence completely tragic for everyone involved. It was so sad…
In 2010, Romeo was killed by hunters.
It was such a tragic way for Romeo to lose his life. Here, he had been giving all of his sweetness to Nick and the community and someone else, an outsider, took that for granted and made a horrible decision to shoot and kill him. The community was reeling from this news, as by that time, Romeo had become a staple of their neighborhood.
There would no longer be any visits to the lake or getting to watch Romeo play with their dog or children in the park. This hunter had stripped poor Romeo of the life that he deserved.
A memorial was held after his passing, and the residents of Juneau made a special plaque with Romeo’s likeness.
This was done out of sheer respect for Romeo, after he lost his life in such a tragic manner. The residents of the town wanted any tourist or person visiting the area to know just how much he meant to that community over the six years that he spent living there.
It was clear that the plaque could not replace Romeo in the hearts of these people, but it made them feel better knowing that their friend would never be forgotten, despite what that person did to him. His depiction on the plaque was absolutely breathtaking to anyone who saw it.
The plaque stands in Juneau to this day.
The beautiful memorial is accompanied by some script beneath the artist’s depiction of him laying atop a stone. It reads, “The Spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.”
Nick and all of the people of the community felt that it truly was a great way of remembering their fallen friend. They knew that any time they wanted to be near him or think of him, they could go to that plaque and remember the good times that they had together. It was bittersweet, but it was the only thing they could even do in that situation.
It reads: “Romeo 2003-2009. The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.”
And the beautiful monument sits on the side of a stone. Tourists can frequently be seen taking their photo with the plaque, even though they never knew him. It’s only fitting, because he would have been as kind to them as he was to everyone else that he met while he lived in the area.
The plaque serves as a reminder that this community has a particularly strong connection with the wild, and that’s something that they take a lot of pride in.
Rest in peace, Romeo.
Rest in peace, Romeo. A sentiment that everyone who ever knew Romeo would gladly agree with. He lived an extremely peaceful life here on Earth and deserved to live the same way in the afterlife. That’s the way that Nick felt, that’s for sure. He often thinks back to that fateful day where Romeo came to his home and approached his dog.
While he was originally scared by the situation, he learned a great lesson, and that was that he should certainly never judge a book by its cover. Romeo was one of the greatest things that ever happened to him and the community.
Nick later went on to write a book about the wolf that changed his life: A Wolf Called Romeo.
The Wolf Who Stole My Heart. It chronicled every moment that Nick ever knew Romeo. From the time that the wolf strolled into his yard and walked right up to his pooch, to the very moment that he realized his friend had been so mercilessly killed by a ruthless hunter.
It was, in many ways, his greatest achievement, though, he likes to believe that meeting Romeo was a lot better. No matter what, though, it’s very clear what an impact that beautiful wolf had on Nick and everyone that he ever met. Suffice it to say, Rest in Peace, Romeo.
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