Review: A Wolf Called Romeo

Romeo and Dakota

The unlikely true story of a six-year friendship between a wild, oddly gentle black wolf and the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska  No stranger to wildlife, Nick Jans had lived in Alaska for nearly thirty years. But when one evening at twilight a lone black wolf ambled into view not far from his doorstep, Nick would finally come to know this mystical species—up close as never before.

A Wolf Called Romeo is the remarkable story of a 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 curiosity. 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, and he them. 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.

Written with a deft hand and a searching heart, A Wolf Called Romeo is an unforgettable tale of a creature who defied nature and thus gave humans a chance to understand it a little more.

*This is nonfiction book and as such this will be a slightly different review.*

From the very first moment I learned about this book, I decided I wanted to read it – no, it was even more than that, I needed to read it. I’ve always had a profound passion for wolves and over the years I’ve always sought to learn as much as I could about these majestic creatures. So, if wolves aren’t your thing, then this is not the book for you.

What did I think of it? Overall, I loved this book. It was just thoroughly interesting and the kind of book you can enjoy over a long period of time, it made me really emotional at times and it just generally warmed my heart.

A Wolf Called Romeo starts with a distressing yet astounding tale of the first time the author, his wife and their yellow lab Dakota came to meet this wolf that is the key figure of this story. I thought this was a very clever way to start the book and it fulfilled its purpose – it made (even more) interested in reading this book.

The book shares the whole story of Romeo, spanning over the roughly six years he spent with this Alaskan community. Essentially, one cold winter day, a young, large black wolf showed up trotting over the frozen lake. He behaved nothing like a wild wolf in Alaska usually would; he wasn’t afraid of people, or dogs, in fact, he wanted to play with as many dogs as he could and he showed no predatory behavior or aggression towards humans or dogs. All of this only served to make him more interesting and although most people were naturally wary of him at first, he soon became a much beloved celebrity in the town.

The writing is this book is stunning, from the incredible landscape descriptions that really make you picture the wilderness of Alaska, to the more emotional, personal and even spiritual tone of the writing when Jans relates the accounts.

Besides that, this book is filled with comprehensive information about wolves, their physical aspects, personality, eating habits, pack dynamics… And Jans shares these facts throughout the chapters without turning them into dull info dumps, but in fact making them extremely interesting.

“If a dog can sense the weight of profound loss in a way humans have recognized, safe to say a wolf can at least equal that emotional complexity.”

“My own belief, based on experience and study, is that an average wild wolf is at least the equal of a brilliant dog in pure, sentient, problem-solving intelligence, and probably its superior.

“You have to be exponentially unlucky – right up there with being struck dead by a piece of space junk – to be killed by a wolf.”

The author also shares harrowing accounts of the persecution and vilification these animals have been the target of since basically the dawn of time, but it focuses primarily on the Alaskan area as it is the setting of this tale. There had been anti-wolf action/support in the past and it was still an ongoing debate at the time and a very real danger to this gentle wolf.

However, there was always a debate whether this relationship with this wolf was a good idea. This was a wild animal so there was always the danger of an attack (to humans or dogs), diseases, among other things. Overall, these arguments were won by fans/supporters of Romeo, though there were a few unsuccessful attempts at capturing and chasing him away.

Unfortunately, every story has an antagonist and this one is no different. People loved Romeo, but some people were also afraid of him and hated him. In September 2009, Romeo was shot and killed by hunters.

The community was outraged and grief-stricken, and they worked together to bring those responsible to justice, though ultimately they only spent a few months in jail. A sad outcome to this story of awe and wonder, but like the author said, Romeo was happy during his time there and he lived a good long life by wolf-standards.

I strongly recommend this book! It’s an incredible true tale of odd friendships and wonder and it will touch your heart, I guarantee it.

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