A Wolf Called Romeo

Book cover showing large black wolf nose to nose with a yellow LabradorIn preparation for a recent trip to Alaska, I read A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans. I’ll warn you straight up: It ends predictably. That means that it’s wonderful until about two-thirds of the way through. The last sections are devoted to the inevitable end, a detailed description of the thug who killed Romeo, the many other laws that vile person broke, and the utterly predictable lack of any kind of justice.

However, up to that point … it’s a magical story.

Romeo, a solitary black wolf, appeared one day on a frozen lake near the Mendenhall glacier outside of Juneau, Alaska. The wolf did not flee the humans out walking and skiing. Even more surprising, he seemed interested in meeting those humans’ dogs.

The dogs were equally intrigued, and the first up-close meetings occurred between dogs who slipped their leashes or pulled away from their humans’ to go meet this large new playmate.

Over the next several months and years, Romeo made friends with several dogs and a few humans. He’d watch for them to arrive, follow them, hang out, play with the dogs, and otherwise conduct himself as any walking partner and friend would.

Jans and a few other humans who spent considerable time with the wolf share their stories as the book unfolds — as well as their fears of the wolf becoming too comfortable around humans. An even greater fear: Naive or clueless humans doing something stupid that resulted in a dog or child being harmed.

Despite many somethings stupid, such as parents pushing their toddlers into the wolf’s company to get a photo, the wolf never harmed a human. On a couple of occasions, he did respond to small dogs as he would to prey, grabbing them and running off … and then he released the dogs unharmed.

As the wolf’s fan club grew, so too did the band of wolf haters. One such individual claimed that the wolf ran off with his dog. The dog never did reappear, but there was also no evidence of the wolf’s involvement. Over several years and hundreds or thousands of human and dog encounters, that was the worst harm reported.

I recommend this book with the caveat that it ends badly. If you can take that (or stop reading in time), you’ll enjoy a beautiful story that shows how a wolf in the prime of his life seeks friendship from close relatives and enjoys playing and hanging out with both dogs and humans. It’s a unique perspective on wolf behavior and cross-species friendships.