25. The Encounter
Can you imagine taking a nice stroll down your local hometown street with your dog, minding your own business, when all of a sudden, a wolf emerges out of the forest and starts approaching you… Well, that’s exactly what happened to Sherrie and Nick Jans of Juneau, Alaska. The couple decided to take their adventurous yellow lab Dakotah for a walk near a local public recreation area when they noticed another dog approaching them. The dog was rather large and although initial thoughts may have been, “Oh look at this nice dog coming to meet Dakotah”, they quickly realized it wasn’t a dog…
24. Nick Jans
Nick Jans, the hunter turned wild-life photographer, was enjoying time with his lady in their winter home in Juneau, Alaska. The couple usually spends their winters here and summers in Florida, but this winter was going to be the best one yet. They never expected how one animal was going to change their lives forever…
23. A Wolf
The black animal approaching turned out to be a wolf! The couple immediately started to get nervous and began running to their dog in case the situation got serious. It wasn’t only his dog’s safety that Nick had to worry about–due to the size of the wolf, his wife’s life and his own life were at stake too. But something interesting started to happen; right when things could have gone wrong, they didn’t…
Although there is a negative stereotype surrounding wolves due to their intense and fierce-some predatory qualities, they are more like dogs than we think. Wolves personalities differ drastically, much like those of domesticated dogs. Some can be more fearful than others, while some are curious and more tolerant of interactions with animals. Just like when you get a dog, you never know the individual personality until you get to know them. It’s just a little more intimidating when it’s a wolf instead of a puppy.
The two animals stared directly into each other’s eyes, with about a yard distance in between them, trying to figure out the other’s end goal. The two almost gave the impression that they recognized each other, maintaining eye contact for quite some time. Dakotah eventually ran back to her owners and the three started walking home as the wolf howled at them, almost as if asking them to stay. The couple continues to ponder over the encounter for the next week…
The couple returned to the site throughout the week looking for the wolf, and each time they would meet again. One day, a passerby skied past the wolf with her pug and the two began to play like they were childhood best friends! Everyone around was in shock and awe as they watched the two joyfully play with no sense of danger. The town of Juneau continued to have the wolf as a weekly visitor.
19. Permanent Resident
Each time the wolf would reappear, it would gently play with other dogs who were not afraid and it was surprising to the people that not once had they seen it act aggressively or with intent to harm. In fact, the people got so comfortable with their new resident that it no longer alarmed anyone that the wolf loved to be near them.
18. Extended Friendship
Nick Jans commented that from his human point of view, Romeo, the townspeople, and their dogs, built a long lasting friendship, “For want of a better word, the only thing I can say from a human perspective is that it amounted to friendship. If you wanted to be scientifically correct, it would be ‘social mutual tolerance’ But it was more than that. The wolf would come trotting over to say hi, and give a little bow and a relaxed yawn, and go trotting after us when we went skiing. There was no survival benefit. He obviously just enjoyed our company”, according to National Geographic.
In fact, the wolf continued to visit his favorite animals and people for six consistent years.
17. Making Friends
The wolf was very friendly, making friends with almost every dog it came in contact with. Although he loved all the dogs in the town, he simply adored some more than others, showing his affection every time they would play. One of those dogs happened to be Nick and Sherrie’s dog, Dakotah. Dakotah’s neighbor and friend, Jessie the collie, is also one of the wolf’s personal favorites.
16. He Gets A Name
Due to the fact he kept coming back, day after day, the town decided to name him. They chose the name Romeo for the new member of their town. Romeo became the town attraction, making news as the story spread to other towns. Most people never looked at Romeo as a wolf because he never really acted in a predatory nature like most wolves do. If anything, he acted like a domesticated dog.
15. His Name
If you’re wondering how or why they named him Romeo, it’s because he was quite the little flirt. He would socialize with all the dogs, but it was the yellow lab that was his Juliet. It’s rather special that Romeo fell for a dog, as wolves are known to have small family circles that have been compared to the exclusivity of the Mob. When Romeo first met his Juliet, the situation was intense for all. Jans said that with his prior wolf knowledge, he was nervous when Dakotah slipped from his grasp and ran toward Romeo, stopping face to face. But it turns out, this wolf was a true Romeo.
14. The Photographs
Jans has been known to comment on the photo’s of Romeo with other dogs, detail body language and giving detailed descriptions of what is going on. In most of the photos, “He’s being very flirtatious. Dakotah is very confident but giving a neutral signal with her tail straight out. They’re both very relaxed; there’s not the least hint of aggression. And that was very typical of how Romeo interacted with dogs” according to National Geographic’s interview with the photographer/author.
13. Playing Favorites
According to Jans and many others from the local Alaskan town, Romeo was much like a human in the sense that he played favorites. He was never aggressive towards anyone or anything, but he had favorites among both. Many visitors and guests would try to get close to him to admire the majestic qualities he so lovely shared with many, but rarely could get closer than 100 feet as he was keen to keep his distance.
It seemed as though Romeo was the bravest wolf in Alaska because he rarely ever shied away and loved playing with all the dogs, big and small. If a crowd got too large for Romeo’s comfort, he would simply run back into the forest to emerge the next day. Due to his incredible behavior, many saw Romeo as a giant dog rather than a wolf.
11. In The Wild
Romeo was not a dog, however, no matter how much he looked and acted like his domestic cousin, the truth was, he was a wild animal. Every night after playing with the dogs all day, he would retreat back into the wild. At night, people assumed he went hunting and to catch up on some sleep, but no one really knows. He usually only disappears for a few days at a time, reappearing like clock-work.
10. Playing Fetch
Romeo made appearances like this for about six years and even learned to play fetch with some of the locals. He would pick up sticks and mimic the actions of his friends, learning to love and trust the humans around him. People would even provide him with children’s toys that he would lug back and forth when he would visit.
9. A Risk
Surprisingly, it was Romeo that was taking the risk by socializing with locals, and not the other way around. Romeo had always been docile and never showed aggression towards humans or other dogs, but new comers would eventually raise enough questions that many started to suggest they relocate him, for his own safety. The last thing anyone wanted was someone getting scared and taking a shot at the towns beloved friend, but the decision wouldn’t be an easy one.
8. The Debate
The debate continued as the town was divided–no one necessarily wanted to see the unusual yet amazing interactions between dog and wolf stop, but many had concerns for their family’s safety. After all, Romeo had the instincts that made him a wolf, which created looming concerns despite his known behavior. In fact, this issue sparked a larger conversation about how to deal with Alaska’s growing wolf population.
7. No Reason For Concern
Although Romeo was still a wolf, the question of action really came into play when discussing his future. Romeo had NEVER hurt a human or animal in the town so many argued that punishing him for something he “might” do, is just plain wrong. Some believed this was a teachable moment about compassion as well as animal welfare.
6. Wolves In Inuit Culture
The term Inuit is used to describe the culturally indigenous people’s of some of our world’s arctic regions such as Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. The Inuit people believe that the wolf is not just an equal, but a superior being with majestic powers. They have intense respect for nature and the animals that inhabit it. Although some tribes that Jans traveled with carrying the intense fear of the wolf, they respect it for its intelligence and survival instincts.
After several years of forging connections and relationships with the dogs and people of Juneau, Romeo was last seen in September of 2009. When the townspeople started to notice they hadn’t seen him in awhile, they started to become concerned. Nothing lives forever and nature is sure to always take its course, but the last thing anyone wanted was to see Romeo be harmed in any way, shape, or form. Many started to speculate and investigate what happened to their furry friend.
4. A Devastating Ending
After many months of investigation, it was determined that a member of the town and his friend, shot and killed the local symbol of compassion. It’s unfortunate that these men were unable to set aside their egotistical drive to kill, but the justice system made sure they would never forget the mistake they made that day. The two men lost all hunting privileges, had to pay multi-thousand dollar fines, and were given multiple years of probation, as punishment for their lack of compassion, empathy, and ability to follow the law of the land.
3. A Silver Lining
Although Romeo’s end came way too soon, there is a silver lining to his story. Most of the time, wolves in the wild only live to about three years old, and Romeo was at least eight years old at the time of his death. It’s unclear if Romeo had the best survival instincts mixed with some seriously great luck, or if his relationship with people actually helped extend his life, in some ironic way. Either way. Romeo had a long life and everyone that was able to experience it is eternally grateful.
Romeo continues to remain in the minds and hearts of everyone who ever met him or had the pleasure of interacting with him. The Jan’s family even wrote a book about Romeo’s story in hopes to spread its magnificence. We can only hope that moving forward his story will help bridge the gap between the way in which humans view and value all life on earth, regardless of race, class, gender, creed, and even species.
1. The Book
Nick Jans didn’t want Romeo’s story to go untold, so he wrote a book detailing the heartwarming adventure. It not only details the facts of Romeo’s life, but it goes into wonderful descriptions of the lives he so graciously touched. This is one instance where the story is told correctly from the very man who discovered dear ol’ Romeo. There are still parts of the book that Jans cannot read in public without crying.