JUNEAU, Alaska — In the winter of 2003 photographer Nick Jans saw a wild black wolf from the back deck of his house. Jans figured it would be a one time sighting but the over the following months, the wolf kept hanging around.
It eventually got to the point that the wolf began to play with one of Jan’s dogs. One day Jans’ Labrador Retriever got loose. She stood right next to the wolf, nose to nose, while a nervous Jans captured a photo.
This was the start of an interesting relationship with the wolf and other local dogs where they continued playing regularly for several years.
READ MORE: Wolf and Border Collie Have Play Dates
The wolf soon became known as Romeo and captured the hearts of almost the entire town of Juneau.
The name came from the first meeting with Jans’ yellow Lab, Dakotah. Jans’ wife did not approve of this new pairing. One morning, the wolf was curled up on the lake ice, waiting for Dakotah to come out to play.
Jans’ wife folded her arms and said in a protective sort of way, “There’s that Romeo wolf again.” And the name stayed.
Jans noted that it’s rare to have a wolf to dog greeting that takes place over a minute, but for this kind of relationship to continue for six years is pretty incredible. Especially since the average lifespan for a wild wolf is only three years.
He documented the experience in a book he called “A Wolf Called Romeo,” reflecting on the playful nature of the wolf and how he acted like a dog, even wanting to play fetch.
He chronicles one moment —
“For my friend Harry Robinson, who had an incredibly close relationship with the wolf, the wolf would bring out toys that he’d stashed. One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to Harry to throw. He clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs. Any highly intelligent animal, from killer whales to wolverines, will engage in play when they have leisure and aren’t engaged in survival.”
Romeo soon became a fixture with people going out to the lake just to catch a glimpse of Romeo. Jans said he had an elastic version of personal space with strangers being unable to get closer than one hundred yards of him. But if Romeo was familiar with you and your dog you could sometimes get within touching distance. Jans quickly adds he never did touch him.
Jans also discussed the nature of the relationship between man, dog, and wolf. No one really knew how the experience would take shape, but all figured it out as they went. All had the intention of getting along as best as possible, and tried their best to find ways to engage play with one another.
And they sure did.