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.