I ordered this book as a member of the Amazon Vine program. This story is a treasure. It’s a gift…a unique and wonderful journey.
My favorite, all-time man-dog book is Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Free-thinking Dog by Ted Kerasote.
Enter Nick Jans with his book entitled A Wolf Called Romeo. This is unequivocally THE BEST man-wild animal book I have EVER read. PERIOD.
Jans uses his life experience as an author, naturalist, experienced outdoorsman, investigative journalist and photographer to weave a wonderful story.
The essence of the book (for me) is characterized in the following excerpt:
“Running a Darwinian gauntlet that demanded constant adaptation and complex responses, with scant margin for error, he had accomplished what few large predators ever had, or will: he lived near, even among, thousands of humans over most of his life – not just a shadowed presence or camp follower,, but as an independent, socially interactive creature whose territory overlapped our own – without the benefit of a large-scale preserve. Through this time among us, he remained his own gatekeeper, his comings and goings defining the ever-shifting boundary between worlds, rendering our own surveys and markers meaningless.” (excerpt from page 185).
Like I said - THE BEST man-wild animal book I have EVER read. PERIOD. This book should be required reading for wildlife biology students and practitioners everywhere!!! When it comes to understanding the wolf ( I hike in northeastern Oregon - Eagle Cap Wilderness - where wolves are now becoming re-established ) hikers, civilians, researchers, ranchers, naturalists and environmentalists would ALL be well-served by consuming this work. BUY IT! READ IT! LEARN FROM IT! - as we have vastly more to learn about this creature - an its interaction with man (or man's interaction with the wolf).
Buy it! Savor it. Look for Nick Jans and go meet him at an author appearance. You’ll be blessed by this true story. I certainly was. I promise. PERIOD.
This is a beautifully written and deeply moving story of not only a wolf but of the huge community of Juneau, Alaska who fell into an intimate relationship with one of man’s most formidable enemies, the Alaskan Wolf. The fact that the author, Nick Jans has been involved with all the trappings having to do with the animals of that area plus hunted for several years with the Inupiaq Eskimo subsistence hunters, gives him way more than the normal understanding of game in the area and predators in general. He had hunted wolves often and had learned much about their habits while doing so. Here is a man who know of what he was seeing or photographing or writing about. Into this man’s heart (along with a lot of the people of Juneau), came an incredible animal of huge size and beauty and youth to make the the people who came into contact with him, enter into a fantasy of Disney proportion. Much bigger than the average wolf, pretty much black all over ( Somewhat unusual in and of itself) with a coat of glorious fulness, enter in Romeo. So named because of his relationships to other dogs. He was beyond understanding and over the years, he broke all the written and unwritten rules involving wild canines and their ancestral brothers, man’s best friend, the dog. Not only did he become playful with the dogs of Juneau but allowed a much more cautious relationship to develop with their human owners.
The narrative encompasses many people who had a close relationship with the animal and Jan’s writes how careful they all tried to be to keep this special creature safe from those who felt the only good wolf was a dead one. It is in their favor that he was in the area many years, always coming back each winter to his own stomping grounds. These were much smaller than a typical wolf pack area keeping him in a fairly close proximity to his canine friends and their people.
The book gives the reader a total understanding of the nature of the wolf and the pro’s and con’s of living with an aberration such as Romeo was. He was almost mystical and if you heard by word of mouth, it would be extremely hard to believe. Jan’s does an extremely good job of giving the reader an understanding of why this happening was so unusual and special. Hasn’t every child wanted their own “wild stallion” that only responded to them? Or the great lion of the veldt being your friend and only yours? The animal that only you could tame? I think most have a wee bit of that in us from when we were small and here in living color, it happened to several people. It was real, he was magnificent and yet wild and still approachable. What a story. I think it changed how a lot of people viewed the wild life forever more. A tale well worth telling and Nick Jans has done more than justice to Romeo’s story.
on June 12, 2014
In late 2003, a large black wolf began appearing around Mendenhall Glacier on the outskirts of Juneau, Alaska. He was tolerant of humans and loved to hang out and play with dogs, sometimes carrying small ones in his mouth (and maybe he killed a couple though he generally released them). Author Nick Jans lived in the area, and along with many other people, spent the next six years observing these fascinating interactions.
Much as I would feel in those circumstances, Jans felt incredibly fortunate about his own good fortune but also protective and fearful of what might happen to the wolf as a result of spending so much time around humans. The book relates many anecdotes about events involving Romeo, and also explores the deep schism in attitudes toward wolves which I’m very familiar with from living in northern Minnesota and Yellowstone.
On the first page of the book, Jans describes the wolf running towards him after they’d had a few experiences with each other. “I’d seen my share of wolves over the years, some point-blank close, and hadn’t quite shifted into panic mode. But anyone who claims he wouldn’t get an adrenaline jolt from a running wolf coming straight in, with no weapon and no place to run . . . is either brain-dead or lying.”
I’ve stood face to face with a captive wolf’s paws on my shoulders, and know well how extremely rare it is for a wolf to attack a human (another subject Jans discusses in the book). But on a winter day when I was hiking alone above Mammoth Hot Springs and the alpha female of the Canyon pack crested a hilltop running straight at me with loud howling coming from others out of sight behind her, you can be sure I immediately changed direction and moved back toward Mammoth (not that I would have made it had the wolves actually been coming for me) so I’m very familiar with that adrenaline jolt.
It's easy to guess how Romeo's story ends, and it can be found on the internet along with videos of him playing with dogs, so I'm not sure if spoilers can apply here. But I won't get into specifics even though I have strong feelings about what happened, and instead just give an obvious warning that this book isn't for sensitive wolf lovers looking for a happy ending.
This is not the oh-how-cute, look-at-that-wolf-play-with-that-dog warm fuzzy read you might be looking for. But I promise that reading it will be a moving, deeply enriching experience nonetheless. This is the carefully laid out narrative of a man who has experienced heartbreak but somehow still manages to retain his journalistic objectivity and offer us all sides of the Romeo-the-wolf story. I loved the clear, concise writing here, and the issues raised have made me think again of what price we pay when we push in too close to the wilderness we love. Kudos to Nick Jans for a superb book.
on July 3, 2014
I live in Juneau, Alaska, and was fortunate enough to watch, and come to know this individual wolf over the course of years. This was truly a gift as well as a once-in-a-lifetime experience - a story that others need to hear. I was there and Jans gets it right. Having read many of Nick's previous works (check out The Last Light Breaking and Grizzly Maze), I was thrilled to learn that he had written this book. In my opinion, his non-fiction writing ranks amongst the best in Alaska and this book is no exception. Wolves have always been a polarizing subject, but here, many facets of the story are explored and presented in a balanced way, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. Romeo’s story, interwoven with the broader topics of wolf biology, the wolf-dog connection and our relationship with wildlife make this essential reading. Thank you, Nick, for writing this important book.
A poetically told story of how a young black wolf first befriended a few humans, then a larger group, and finally much of the town of Juneau, Alaska. He was seen by some as the natural personification of the wild self-sustaining indivdualism, while hated by others who only thought of him as a natural predator. This is the story of how a wild creature changed the preconceived notions about how a wolf should act. Ultimately it is the story of life and death of one creature, a wolf named ROMEO.
The author first spotted Romeo on a frozen lakebed outside of Juneau in December of 2003. He wa still quite young and not fully mature, with the author guessing his age at 2 years or less. He was wary, but never threatening to humans or their four legged companions. In fact, he took a special liking to all the female dogs,without ever mating with any, at least not in anyone's presence, which is how he got his name. He would often steal the toys that human would throw to their own dogs seemingly acting like just another dog.
As the author tells us there are less than .02 wolves per each of Alaska's 500,000 square miles, so that many Alaskans have never really heard a wolf howl in the wild and fewer still have actually seen one, regardless of what the movies imply..
Although I would like to quote a few lines, I would also caution the reader that I am reviewing from a pre-release version of the book and the pages cited may be changed in the official editions thereafter.
"[I]n the entire recorded history of Alaska, there has been just one confirmed fatal attack by nonrabid wolves on humans...On March 8, 2010, a young, first-year teacher from Pennsylvannia, Candice Berner, was killed two miles from the remote Alaskan Peninsula village of Chignik Lake." [p79]
The author further tells us that "According to biologists, a ripe old age for a wild wolf is between seven and ten years, though most don't live that long...Even within the boundaries of Denali National Park, where all human hunting and trapping is banned, one study found the average life of a wolf spans just three years." [pp92-93]
Romeo had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time especailly from late spring to early fall often leaving people to think he died. But Romeo seemed to have had a particular affinity for another photographer, Harry Robison, and his female black Lab mix, Brittain. "Harry reported that he, Brittain and the wolf found each other and all was as it had ever been. Romeo had once again risen from the dead." [p144] However, on or about 9/23/2009 Romeo seemed to disappeared for good, at least no human could locate him. So what happened, did he run off with a small pack of wolves who had recently invaded Romeo's territory, had he finally set up housekeeping with a friendly female wolf and started a family of his own, or had some onerous act befallen him? As the author spends the last few chapters explaining this part I won't spoil it for you.
I would like to sum up this review in the author's own words. "His survival was not due to the actions of a few, but the tolerance of many, and the restraint of state and federal agencies - not to mention the actions of the wolf himself.. he might still be there, waiting by the Big Rock for his adopted pack mates to appear." [p228] At least we can all hope!
Captivating and a real tear-jerker for all canid enthusiasts.
on January 17, 2015
This is an interesting, and apparently to many people, surprising book. I am writing from the perspective of a professional biologist who has more than 25 years of experience working with wolves and wolf-dog crosses, and many years of public outreach about wolves. I think the situation described in this book is more common than people realize, especially in areas where wolves are more abundant and not simply shot on sight. This situation may be more likely with Black forms of wolf, which have some dog ancestry, which is where the black coat comes from, black is a color not seen in wild wolves with no dog admixture. I think Romeo is an example of an interesting and historically important phenomenon, the wolf that is friendly towards humans and wants to cooperate and be social. It is known that if you take any litter of wolf pups, some are skittish and avoid humans almost from birth, whereas a few are more curious and friendly and readily approach humans.
Where i fault Jans is for not exploring this line of thinking more. It is obvious from the knowledge and traditions of native Americans that friendly wolves, almost always alone, were a regular experience in their lives. From the Lakota story of the Woman who lived with Wolves to the rescue of Cheyenne women and children after the Sand Creek Massacre, this is a regular aspect of Indigenous American culture. I think this book could have been strengthened by more research along these lines and less of the hand wringing in which Jans indulges. For example, he is endlessly telling us of the possibility that any action by the wolf could lead to kits end, which although somewhat true, is also the result of guilt on the author's part.
I would like to comment on the incidents where romeo presumably attacked, and perhaps killed, some small dogs. Humans don't realize and Jans does not point out that wolves and dogs are the same species, because domestic animals are not really species. This was a mistake made in the 17th century and perpetuated until this day by many people, including some scientists who should know better. When it comes to the mutant, tiny wolves that we call small dogs, these animals give off mixed messages, on the one hand thinking they are adult wolves while their bodies and behavior suggest, at least to other wolves that they are puppies, and very odd ones at that. Adult wolves will usually discipline badly behaved puppies, however, when these 'puppies' are actually adults and want to be taken seriously, this creates escalated discipline, which can lead to harm. This can happen not only with wolves, but also with large dogs. In the case of the Pug and Pomeranian (Chapter 11), with which Romeo engaged, he may have seen these not only as be=badly behaved puppies, but as very sick ones. As An example, the labored breathing that humans have created in pugs would be considered evidence of a near terminal condition in a wild wolf.
This book leads to a too easily predicted end, one that Jans seems to have been setting up or preparing us for from the first. What I find almost amazing was how long Romeo was allowed to engage with humans, which i find hopeful. He met his end as the result of a couple of nitwits from Pennsylvania who should have been behind bars for a variety of reasons, including child molestation. Unfortunately in Pennsylvania, child molestation seems to be a rite of passage for a certain type of male, see Jerry Sandusky and Penn State and the Catholic Church (My parents are from Western Pennsylvania, so i know about what I speak). The white males who killed Romeo seem to redefine the concept of lower form of life, and show what is wrong with our justice system, when people like this are allowed to roam freely and well armed.
I guess my general impression of this book is that it tells a good story about a bittersweet situation. What I think should be considered is that wolves like Romeo may have been part of the regular experience of humans during our early history. They are offering friendship of an unusual and powerful kind that gave us the dogs we have today. The question is, are we really able to reciprocate to the nondomestic form of friendship?
Nick Jans does an excellent job in telling the true story (at least from his perspective) of his six-year friendship with a wild, yet gentle black wolf and the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska.
Rather then reinvent the wheel, so to speak, in describing what A Wolf Called Romeo is about, I'll just extract parts from the jacket cover which should tell you what you need to know in deciding if this book will be of interest to you: "A Wolf Called Romeo is the story of a lone black wolf who returned again and again to interact with the people and dogs of Juneau, living on the edges of their community, engaging in an improbable awe-inspiring interspecies dance and bringing the wild into sharp focus. At first the people of Juneau were guarded, torn between shoot-first-ask questions-later instincts and curiousity. But as Romeo began to tag along with cross-country skiers on their daily jaunts, play fetch with local dogs, or simply lie near Nick and nap under the sun, they came to accept Romeo, as he was called by those who came to know him. For Nick, it was about trying to understand Romeo, then it was about winning his trust, and ultimately it was about watching over him for as long as he or anyone could."
For me, personally, I found A Wolf Called Romeo to be both a very educational read about wolves (although some will argue that Jans, being a wildlife activist, is somewhat biased in the writing), as well as being a very emotional book. The book made made feel that I wanted to be, as were many residents of Juneau, a "Friend of Romeo", as well as making me feel that I was right alongside Nick Jans as he lived through his remarkably fascinating and, ultimately, sad experiences with Romeo.
I agree that some of the points of view Jans presents in this book are biased in favor of Romeo and of wildlife in general; but since I, for the most part, hold similar views as the author, I consider A Wolf Called Romeo to be a very compelling and inspiring read. As such, I would highly recommend it to anyone other than those who consider any type of wildlife to be "fair game."
Nick Jans has written an excellent book on a remarkable wild wolf who befriended dogs and even their owners up in Juneau in Alaska, where he lives.. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the better! We have all heard of species of animals becoming friendly with other animals that are not in their respective "families". As soon as you get to know Romeo (the wild wolf), you are amazed that this male was so friendly and outgoing! He actually sought out dogs that were tame and belonged to families. They, in turn, were surprised to be able to become friends with this wild animal and not have to fight to get along. The photos are wonderful in this book and certainly prove that this story is for real. I couldn't help but give my heart over to Romeo and how he readily accepted humans that were with the dogs he befriended. From the very beginning of this wonderful story, you can't help but have strong emotions as to how you know this book has to end! Jan's and some of his friends that made an effort to become very friendly with Romeo, understood that there still needed to be "space" between Romeo and those he chose to go to. But, it didn't take long to see how other people overstepped that fine border that existed between a wild animal and humans. Although it should have been obvious to these people that such familiarity would present problems, they never thought of how precarious the relationships were and how their overwhelming friendliness would lead to problems. It would have been wonderful to watch Romeo and his play among dogs, but it didn't take me long to see where these relationships were leading to. I hated to see the book nearing it's end, as I could sense the outcome. I shed many tears for Romeo and those that truly loved him, me included. Wolves have always had a bad rap and that is quite evident when you read of what we and our Government is doing to them, to eradicate them from our world when it is theirs too. We just don't seem to learn why animals and humans can exist together in each one's personal "space". with some tolerance and understanding. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people think that they don't belong in our world. Who made us the supreme being when trying to understand animals and "their worlds"? This is an excellent book and I am going to read more of Nick Jan's writing. If you love all of God's creatures, you will really enjoy this book for it's insights into the life of lone wolf and how he enjoyed other companionship than just other wolves!
"Think not that you can direct the path of love, for if love finds you worthy, it will direct your path." These words by Kahlil Gibran are so fitting for this story. Who could've guessed the chain of events that would transpire after a lone male black wolf made his presence known and initiated friendships with dogs and dog owners on the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau, AK over a period of six years.
Nick Jans has written a poignant account of these magical events and he circles the telling of each of Romeo's encounters like a predator stalking prey or perhaps a better description would be a wolf seeking a mate. Thus we are not given a one-sided look at this phenomenon, but are given the opportunity to view it through myriad lenses and so can draw our own conclusions. This book is packed with facts and myths about wolves and in the end, I too, fell in love with Romeo and his nobility that survives to this day.