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A Wolf Called Romeo

A Wolf Called Romeo

4.5 15
by Nick Jans

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“Jans is an exceptional storyteller—no nature writer can top him in terms of sheer emotional force.” —New York Times
A Wolf Called Romeo is the true story of the exceptional black wolf who spent seven years interacting with the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska, living on the edges of their community, engaging


“Jans is an exceptional storyteller—no nature writer can top him in terms of sheer emotional force.” —New York Times
A Wolf Called Romeo is the true story of the exceptional black wolf who spent seven years interacting with the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska, living on the edges of their community, engaging in an improbable, awe-inspiring interspecies dance, and bringing the wild into sharp focus.
When Romeo first appeared, author Nick Jans and the other citizens of Juneau were wary, but as Romeo began to tag along with cross-country skiers on their daily jaunts, play fetch alongside local dogs, or simply lie near Nick and nap under the sun on a quiet afternoon, Nick and the rest of Juneau came to accept Romeo, and he them. Part memoir, part moving animal narrative, part foray into the mystique, lore, science, and history of the wolf, A Wolf Called Romeo is a book no animal lover should miss.
“Beautifully written, A Wolf Called Romeo is a thoughtful and moving story about one of nature’s most evocative animals.” —Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash
“Jans is a perfect narrator for this story. He’s deeply knowledgeable about the Alaskan wilderness and he evokes its harsh beauties in powerful and poetic prose . . . A tingling reminder of the basic bond that occasionally spans the space between two species.” —Christian Science Monitor
NICK JANS is an award-winning writer, photographer, and author of numerous books, including The Grizzly Maze. He is a contributing editor to Alaska magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including Rolling Stone and the Christian Science Monitor.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Bronwen Dickey
For Jans, the desire to understand Romeo is deeply personal, fueled by regrets about his own wolf-hunting past, which he writes about with unflinching honesty. The story is also a sort of collective reckoning, as he meditates on the evolution from wolf to dog and the persecution of wolves throughout the American frontier. Jans is an exceptional storyteller—no nature writer can top him in terms of sheer emotional force—and he frames even the smallest moment with haunting power.
Publishers Weekly
Nature photographer and author Jans (The Grizzly Maze) reflects on a six-year relationship between the citizens of Juneau, Alaska, and an unusually friendly lone black wolf named Romeo. Jans recalls his early meetings with the wolf on Mendenhall Lake, including when it intercepted a tennis ball intended for Jans’s Labrador. Romeo’s popularity grew through press coverage and word-of-mouth; he became “the town’s de facto mascot” and companion to innumerable local canines. Jans’s story is marred by political strife caused by Alaska’s “controversial wildlife management” practices, with off and on aerial gunning programs targeting wolves which the human residents, “infused by a free-thinking, old-Alaska egalitarianism,” largely disapproved. Threats to Romeo’s survival escalate after a couple near-violent incidents with area dogs forces the Fish and Game agency to consider removing the wolf. Hunters set up illegal traps and a dog was mistakenly, and brutally, killed. When Romeo disappears, outdoorsman Harry Robinson investigates, leading police to a pair of sadistic poachers. Jans explains pack hierarchy and the punishing wolf life cycle, “a Darwinian gauntlet that demanded constant adaptation and complex responses,” and defends the animals as unfairly perceived to be a threat to humans. Insightful and philosophical, Jans probes the boundaries between wilderness and civilization and our responsibilities to the untamed creatures in our midst. Photos. Agent: Elizabeth Kaplan. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
The sweet and cautionary tale of a wolf that liked to play with dogs.The story opens in the early winter of 2003, just north of Juneau, Alaska, near Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau-based journalist Jans was out skiing on the frozen lake by his house when his eye caught a track that wasn’t laid down by a dog. Two days later, he and his dogs ran across the creature: a good-sized, black-haired wolf, easily double his biggest dog, a barrel-chested Lab. The wolf was imposing, to be sure, but as personality or genetics or the alignment of the stars would have it, it was also crazy for dogs. Jans is a fairly cool customer, and he is concerned about issues surrounding habituation and the conflict it can spawn for wild animals, but when he was caught in the beams of the wolf’s amber eyes, “a wild-edged thrill swelled in my chest.” So tolerant was Romeo—and yes, the author understands the cautions about naming a wild animal, but could this be a “friendship”?—that he became a local celebrity, with all the inevitable polarizing that caused. Wolves, Jans explains, just strike the wrong note with many humans, a reminder that we do not sit alone atop the food chain. In neat slices of natural history, the author explores what we know about the history of wolves, though he also wheels about freely, including elements of memoir here, profiles of his neighbors there. The meat of the story, however, surrounds Romeo: his trails, which he tends with loving care; his masterful ability to decode intentions; the joy and fearmongering his playfulness brings; and the bum raps and rumors that he has to shoulder for every wolf in the region.An astute, deeply respectful encounter between man and wolf.
From the Publisher
"An astute, deeply respectful encounter between man and wolf." ---Kirkus
Library Journal
No, not some lovesick lad; this Romeo is a black wolf that sauntered into Jans's yard in Alaska and returned to bond with him and his neighbors—and even their pets. Jans, who has lived in Alaska for 30 years, had never seen anything like it. Given the current controversy over wolves in this country, this book is essential reading. Lots of photos from award-winning writer and photographer Jans.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


“Are you sure about this?” my wife, Sherrie, breathed. She glanced over her shoulder toward the comforting glow of our house on the lakeshore, then gazed ahead where a black wolf stood on the ice in the gathering twilight. Bundled against the Southeast Alaska cold, we’d taken along just one of our three dogs — our female yellow Lab, Dakotah, who’d always been perfectly mannered and under voice control around wildlife, from bears to porcupines.
   Despite some understandable jitters, Sherrie was so thrilled she was about to jump out of her skin. After all these years of trying and not seeing, there it was: her first wolf. Perfect, I thought, and easier than it ever should be. But as we walked farther out on the ice, things changed. The wolf, instead of watching from the tree line as he had several times with me, angled toward us at a trot. Then he broke into a bounding lope, snow flying beneath his paws, jaws agape. I drew Sherrie toward me and reached for Dakotah’s collar. My vision sharpened, and synapses crackled. 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, and loved ones to defend, is either brain-dead or lying.
   In a few heartbeats, the wolf had closed the distance to forty yards. He stood stiff-legged, tail raised above his back, his unblinking stare fixed on us — a dominant posture, less than reassuring. Then, with a moaning whimper, Dakotah suddenly wrenched free of the two fingers I’d hooked through her collar and bounded straight at the wolf. A tone of desperation sharpening her voice, Sherrie called again and again, but there was no stopping that dog. The Lab skidded to a stop several body lengths short of contact and stood tall, her own tail straight out, and as we watched, mouths open, the wolf lowered his to match. With the two so close, I had my first clear idea of just how large the wolf really was. Dakotah, a stocky, traditional-style female Lab, weighed in at a muscular fifty-six pounds. The black wolf towered over her, more than double her weight. Just his head and neck matched the size of her torso. A hundred twenty pounds, I figured. Maybe more.
   The wolf stepped stiff-legged toward Dakotah, and she answered. If she heard our calls, she gave no sign. She was locked on and intent, but utterly silent — not at all her normal happy-Lab self. She seemed half-hypnotized. She and the wolf regarded each other, as if each were glimpsing an almost-forgotten face and trying to remember. This was one of those moments when time seems to hold its breath. I lifted my camera and snapped off a single frame.
   As if that tiny click had been a finger snap, the world began to move again. The wolf’s stance altered. Ears perked high and held narrow, he bounced forward a body length, bowed on his forelegs, then leaned back and lifted a paw. Dakotah sidled closer and circled, her tail still straight out. The eyes of each were locked on the other. With their noses a foot apart, I pressed the shutter once more. Again, the sound seemed to break a spell. Dakotah heard Sherrie’s voice at last and bounded back toward us, turning her back, at least for now, on whatever call of the wild she’d just heard. We watched for long minutes with Dakotah softly whining at our sides, staring toward the dark, handsome stranger who stood staring our way and whining back, a high-pitched keening that filled the silence. Half-stunned, Sherrie and I murmured back and forth, wondering at what we’d seen and what it meant.
   But it was getting dark — time to go. The wolf stood watching our retreat, his tail flagging, then raised his muzzle to the sky in a drawn-out howl, as if crushed. At last he trotted west and faded into the trees. As we walked toward home in the deepening winter evening, the first stars flickered against the curve of space. Behind us, the wolf’s deep cries echoed off the glacier.

With that first close meeting one evening in December 2003, a wild black wolf became part of our lives — not just as a fleeting shape in the dusk, but as a creature we and others would come to know over a span of years, just as he came to know us. We were neighbors, that much is certain; and though some will scoff, I say friends as well. This is a tale woven of light and darkness, hope and sorrow, fear and love, and perhaps, a little magic. It’s a story of our time on this shrinking world, one I need to tell — most of all, to myself. Late at night, it fills the spaces between heartbeats, nudges me awake. By speaking, I hope not to be rid of it, nor even to understand, but just to set down all the facts, the musings, and unanswered questions as best I can. Years from now, at least I’ll know that I did more than dream, and that once upon a time, there was a wolf we called Romeo. This is his story.

Meet the Author

NICK JANS is an award-winning writer, photographer, and author of numerous books, including The Grizzly Maze. He is a contributing editor to Alaska Magazine and has written for Rolling Stone, Backpacker, and the Christian Science Monitor.

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A Wolf Called Romeo 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
DouglasPfeiffer More than 1 year ago
Nick Jans writes compellingly about a wild black wolf nicknamed Romeo living on the outskirts of Juneau, Alaska. He describes the unusual, but amazing story of how this wolf, townspeople and their pet dogs interacted over several years without the wolf becoming tame, or habituated. Factual and yet personal, Jans maintains his journalistic balance as he describes the tenuous relationships between dogs and wolf, humans and wolf, and humans who have different attitudes about any wild wolf living nearby their homes and recreation areas.
Buffalojim More than 1 year ago
A Wolf Called Romeo, is an emotional roller-coaster. Up, when author Nick Jans is interacting with the wolf or discussing others who formed a tight relationship, and down when the scientific and legal interludes cool his fine narrative. There are comfortable level portions that are informative, and allow a reader to rest his heart rate until it comes back to walking, talking, and interacting with the wolf called Romeo. In Alaska we often get opportunities to interact with wild creatures, but this long lasting intimate, tolerable affair far surpassed an occasional relationship. Plus—this book is a work of beauty. Get it. Read it. Don’t loan it out unless you keep the dust cover in the cupboard while it’s gone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you Nick Jans for writing this story. Beautiful, beautiful story. Romeo entered my life through this book and I am richer for it. I have loved my dogs forever. Now I have better appreciation that they are part of my pack, and I am part of theirs.
TomMN More than 1 year ago
A Wolf Called Romeo is another in a long line of wonderful books from Nick Jans. Over a couple years Mr. Jans wrote several articles about Romeo in his regular features in Alaska magazine that left me wanting more information. I could hardly wait for the book to be published. Tom - Minneapolis
fiorentina More than 1 year ago
The beautiful relationsihp between a special wolf and an Alaskan community.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. With Mr. Jan's excellent writing, I was drawn into the experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful, sad story! Knew I would hate the ending! But Romeo was a special wolf, and the people who knew and loved him are just as special. RIP, Romeo!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was full of interesting facts about wolves in particular and a lot of other species indigenous to Alaska.the author spent a lot of time describing locals in his area which I felt made the story drag at times.very well written. Nature lovers and those familiar with the area would love it.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Loved the story. So sad that there are so many unfeeling cruel people in the world. The wolf wasn't hurting anyone. Really made me sad that Romeo was murdered
CaninesRock 8 months ago
Nick Jans’ poignant, beautifully written, hard-to-put-down book touches on so many important themes: the potentials and pitfalls of interspecies relationships; the politics and intricacies of wildlife management; cultural attitudes regarding the suffering and harvesting of wild animals and whether they are even important as living beings in their own right; human/wildlife coexistence; the deep structural flaws in our so-called justice system; and the lack of empathy that seems to pervade our culture. But most importantly, Jans’ book is about a particular black wolf-A Wolf Called Romeo-a compelling, fascinating, unique being. Jans’ perceptive description of Romeo-not just a random wild wolf, but a unique individual that Jans came to know over a period of years-allows the reader to see beyond the stereotypes, unconscious filters and projections that all too often define humanity’s view of wolves. His attention to subtle details gleaned from hours of observation speak of one who has great familiarity and knowledge of wildlife. Romeo’s personality, intelligence, reasoning powers as well as his immense drive and capacity for peaceful relationship come to life under Jans’ pen. Much of Romeo’s behavior runs contrary to the conventional wisdom regarding how wild wolves are believed to behave and prompts us to ponder how much we really don’t fathom about the inner workings of wolves, or any other animal for that matter, including humans. This book describes how many of the people of Juneau embraced a new normal as Romeo drew them together and enriched their lives immeasurably, bringing joy, incredible personal and emotional growth and hopefully new ways of thinking and being in this world. And ultimately, through A Wolf Called Romeo, Romeo’s amazing life has created a ripple effect whose momentum continues to touch people through space and time in similar ways, opening their hearts and minds to a better recognition of the bonds we share with all living creatures, if we can pause long enough in our busy lives to rediscover and nurture those lost or damaged connections.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems like a good book. Did the wolf die?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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