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.
Then something amazing happened. Instead of attacking, the two animals started to play together. That’s when he snapped this iconic photo.
The wolf, who would later be named Romeo, stayed in the area. Nick devoted more and more of his time to documenting the animal. This looks like a scene out of a Disney movie!
Romeo became a regular member of the community and was known for interacting with other dogs at Mendenhall Glacier Park.
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?
But soon everyone realized that Romeo just wanted to play. He was a softie at heart and meant no harm to anyone.
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?
“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.
“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.
“It wasn’t just our understanding and tolerance. It was the combination of his and ours and the dogs’.”
“We were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.”
Romeo stuck around for six years, playing with the dogs and humans in the area.
In that time, he became a symbol of the community’s bond with the wild.
Romeo became a local fixture. Residents would often say “I’m going to the lake to see the wolf.”
Locals knew Romeo was very friendly, but strangers usually wouldn’t dare get closer than a hundred yards.
Romeo captured the hearts of everyone who knew him, human and canine alike.
Nick said he “was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start, as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn.”
Then one day, tragedy struck.
In 2010, Romeo was killed by hunters.
A memorial was held after his passing, and the residents of Juneau made a special plaque with Romeo’s likeness.
Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
The plaque stands in Juneau to this day.
It reads: “Romeo 2003-2009. The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.”
Rest in peace, Romeo.
Nick later went on to write a book about the wolf that changed his life: A Wolf Called Romeo.
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