When most people think of a wolf, they often think of the villainous canine which stalked characters in the popular fairy tales about “Little Red Riding Hood” and the three little pigs. The wolf is often a symbol of courage and ferocity, and feared for its nocturnal hunting tactics; stalking and killing its prey at a time of significantly lower visibility. In one Alaskan city, however, one wolf proved to be anything but threatening as it approached Juneau through the lens of photographer Nick Jans.
The wolf, named Romeo, ended up proving that just because something sounds scary, it doesn’t mean it is, and Juneau is that much nicer a place to live because of him.
The Average Misconception About Wolves
Of the most dangerous animals in the wild, wolves often rank extremely high. The ferocious canine often prowls forests, blending in with the night as its stealth makes it just as dangerous as the bear. What you might not realize is that the wolf is often only dangerous if it’s hungry or feels threatened, or if you happen to invade its territory. The average dog, considered man’s best friend, is actually a distant relative of the wolf, and just as dangerous.
When Nick Jans’ dog met one, it worried him.
Nick Spotted The Wolf In 2003
In 2003, photographer Nick Jans had been sitting on his front porch in Juneau when he’d spotted something in the distance which made him nervous. There were wolf tracks on the ice, something he recognized from his days as a hunter. His dog Dakotah had also spotted the wild predator, deftly escaped her collar, and ran out to meet it. This was a scary situation as Nick watched the two investigate each other.
Dog Meets Wolf
When Dakotah met the Alaskan black wolf, Nick didn’t expect them to actually get along. Not many professional photographers get a chance to take pictures of wild animals, so he took out his camera to capture the two standing nose to nose before the wolf revealed itself to actually be friendly. When they started playing, Nick realized he’d been blessed.
Wolf Behavior Varies
Some wolves are relentless predators, as Nick Jans knew too well after his days as a hunter. Others are calm, relaxed, and even tolerant. It’s impossible to know until you meet one which way it will act, and often enough it’s not recommended that you approach one.
Wolves are often territorial and don’t like being approached, seeing it as an act of hostility, and responding likewise. They are unpredictable, and Nick knew he was lucky that his dog and the Alaskan black wolf got along.
Romeo Decides To Stick Around
Having made his acquaintance with Nick’s dog Dakotah, the photographer was also surprised to see the wolf deciding to make regular appearances in Juneau. The social tolerance the wolf exhibited earned him the Shakespearean name Romeo. Nick’s daughter gave him the name after seeing him become an unlikely friend with Dakotah, much like the children of rival families in the classic tragedy.
This was only the beginning.
Romeo Continues To Make Friends
As wolves are usually known to be predators, especially around animals, it was surprising when Romeo got to know other dogs in the area as well. He became not just a regular visitor, but practically a member of the Juneau community. His favorite place to hang around was Mendenhall Glacier Park, where he met other dogs and their owners.
Not Everybody Was Happy To See Romeo At First
As with most things people fear, it’s often coming face to face with it which makes that fear fall to the wayside. The same thing happened with locals who’d met Romeo for the first time. They couldn’t know at first that this Alaskan black wolf wasn’t going to attack them, and initially avoided him.
Residents Of Juneau Eventually Realized Romeo Was No Threat
As time passed and Romeo made repeated appearances with no attacks, the people who regularly visited Mendenhall Glacier Park came to realize the wolf wasn’t a threat. As he continued his trend of social interactions and people saw he meant them no harm, tolerance led to acceptance. The park and Juneau eventually realized they had a willing mascot of sorts.
Romeo Wanted To Play With The Dogs
After people and their dogs learned to accept Romeo, they also learned his real purpose for visiting the park. The Alaskan black wolf just wanted to play, especially with the dogs. He didn’t care about breed or size. Dobermans and dachshunds were as equal to him as Pomeranians, pit bulls, and German Shepherds.
The Wolf Who Played With People
Romeo didn’t limit his playful nature to just other dogs of course. He often liked to play fetch, very unlike the fierce nature of predators. He would often come out of the forest with toys he wanted the Juneau locals to throw for him.
What do you do when a wolf wants to play fetch? You most likely do the same thing the Mendenhall Glacier Park visitors did. You oblige.
Romeo Felt Relaxed With Juneau Locals
As most canines often do after they’ve had their play-time, Romeo was also known to just lay around. This is very uncommon, just like the fact that wolves are often known to attack and even eat other animals who venture into their territory, not play with them like this Alaskan black wolf did.
Strangers Often Avoid Romeo At First
As expected, when people from other areas came to visit Mendenhall Glacier Park, they often kept their distance. Wolves in general are not known to be socially tolerant like Romeo is. Much like the locals did at first, it took strangers some time to realize that Romeo was no threat, and almost ironically playful.
Once one gave him the chance, you’d be surprised at how nice this Alaskan black wolf was.
Photographer Nick Jans knows how lucky he is to have lived so close to Mendenhall Glacier Park, and often used this to get photos of Romeo. He also knew that not everyone would get the chance to visit Juneau to meet and possibly play with the Alaskan black wolf. Using the first picture he ever took of the curious black wolf, he had the front cover ready for a book about him.
Titled “A Wolf Called Romeo,” the book goes into depth explaining even further the discovery and joy of having discovered a friendly black wolf. The author says there are still parts of the book he can’t read without crying.
Discover the book for yourself in most formats, including paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and Amazon Kindle.