|Romeo and Dakota|
Juliet didn’t receive her name until years later, when her story became fully known. On the day she came in to town, tied to the back of work vehicle, she was just one of the many nameless wolves killed by humans each year.
Hit by a car on it’s way into Juneau as it came around a darkened bend on the densely forested Alaskan Highway – Juliet had yet to receive her name or have her first litter of puppies.
The driver reported the accident but by the time Juliet’s body was recovered, it was too late for the four pups that would have been born just a week or two later.
The winter following Juliet’s death, the people of Juneau began to hear mournful cries of a lone wolf. Hearing howling is a common enough thing in this part of the world, but a solitary unanswered voice – repeated night after night – caused the towns people to talk.
Was this the cry of a wolf without a pack? Was he calling his mate? Why didn't he move on and call somewhere else? Was Juneau special to him for some reason?
There are few places in the world where you can still see wolves in the wild. And even fewer where those wolves feel comfortable enough with their human neighbours to visit.
In Juneau, Alaska just months after Juliet came into town, and just weeks after the soulful searching howls, a large black male wolf, was noticed searching the outer areas of town. The intentions of this large inquisitive black wolf were making people nervous.
Humans have long been afraid of wolves, and for good reason. Wolves are hunting machines and do not see people as friends. What was unique about this large male was he did not seem to see humans as enemies either. They were just people.
The large black wolf was, instead, very interested in the dogs in Juneau. Photographer Nick Jans saw wolf prints while out skiing one day. Hoping to get a good photo, he followed the tracks.
When he found the wolf, it took an instant interest in the two dogs Nick had with him. His dogs were well trained and stayed at his side. They focused on the wolf with every fibre of their being. Nick took a few photos and then headed home. The wolf followed them.
Over the next few months, the wolf occasionally visited their lakeside house. He would walk across the frozen snow covered lake and sit a few hundred metres from the house and watch for the dogs.
It wasn’t just the Jans who were visited by the black wolf. Many other residents of town began reporting seeing him. Most of the encounters happened when people walked their dogs along the lake and outside town.
Some months after their first encounter, Nick and his wife Sherrie were out walking their dogs on the frozen lake when the black wolf stepped out of the trees along the shoreline. Dakota, the Jans’ yellow Labrador broke free from her lead and bolted toward the wolf.
Unable to stop her, Nick and Sherrie watched with fear and then wonder as Dakota slid to a halt and faced the wolf – nose to nose. The huge wolf towered over the full sized Lab. His head easily twice the size of hers. Frozen in strikingly playful poses, the two canines sized each other up.
Then, Dakota turned and bounded back to her owners.
The wolf started spending a lot of time coming over the Jans’ house and watching for Dakota. So much so that one day, looking out the kitchen window and seeing his dusky form on the ice just a few hundred metres away, Sherrie said, “There’s that Romeo wolf again!”
The name spread across town like wildfire. The wolf had been wooing numerous dogs with his prowess and charisma. Everyone thought Romeo was the perfect name.
They had no idea how right they were. His Juliet was in town and he was searching for her. Normally Alaskan wolves have a territory that spans hundreds of miles. Over the years of Romeo’s visits, Nick tracked him repeatedly and deduced Romeo was limiting himself to a territory of just seven miles. He never went far from town.
Some people said this was not good for Romeo or for the people flocking to town to see the wild wolf who played with dogs. Hikers, Campers, holiday makers – they all came to see the wolf for themselves.
“He’s trying to make a pack out of our dogs,” many locals said. “He needs to be taken into the wild where he can join a wolf pack.”
“We like having him here!” Other people said. They had fallen in love with Romeo.
It was a very difficult situation for the authorities who wanted to protect the people but also didn’t want to upset Romeo. Moving him near other wolves could get him killed if they rejected him. Perhaps Romeo was demonstrating a new kind of interaction between wolf and human – a friendly coexistence between species.
Had anyone been able to ask Romeo, he would have said, “Have you seen a beautiful black female wolf? I last saw my wife just near this town. We were out hunting when I lost track of her. I returned to our den and waited. I waited for weeks. She never came back. She was almost ready to have our first family. I tracked her scent to this town. Something feels right about this town.”
Maybe that’s what Romeo was saying to all the dogs he met. Maybe they understood him. Maybe they didn’t. But one thing was clear, all the town dogs and most of the town people loved Romeo.
And Romeo loved Juliet. Enough to give up his life in the wild. Enough to search for her until his dying day. There are hundreds of photos of dozens of dogs that prove, Romeo made lots of new friends. But his heart always belonged to his Juliet.
When the towns people realised that their love story with Romeo the black wolf was over they erected two monuments. One, in the park that Romeo loved, displays an artistic sketch of a wolf above words of tribute:
The other monument is behind a glass display window in the park office. Beautifully stuffed and mounted, a black wolf – the pregnant female hit by the car that April 2003 day – her name underneath: Juliet.
The people of Juneau loved Romeo enough to honour his memory. Greater love was shown by Romeo who searched with life long loyalty for his Juliet.
If you were to go to Juneau and visit these two memorials, you would become part of the story of the last two wolves in the Juneau pack. And perhaps, your heart would be challenged to show such love and loyalty.