A Wolf Called Romeo: The Alaskan Wolf Who Loved Dogs - The Online Dog Trainer

A Wolf Called Romeo: The Alaskan Wolf Who Loved Dogs

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Today’s Guest

Nick Jans

My guest today is a man known to be the most prolific author and photographer of Alaskan wildlife, landscapes and culture, Nick Jans. But what he’s most well known for is bringing a huge, black, wild wolf called Romeo, into the hearts and minds of people all across the world.

This is such a special podcast for me. I’ve always loved the wolves, and what they’ve taught me about our dogs. Chatting with a studier of wolves in the wild, someone who has been up close with them, is a goal I’ve had for a long time — a bucket-list ticker!

Nick has spent much of his life in Alaska and had many encounters with the large black wolf known as Romeo. Hear the story of how Romeo interacted with people and became friends with local dogs. Warm your heart as Nick tells us about the first time his labrador, Dakota, met Romeo, and laugh along when Romeo plays just like a dog!

You’ll Hear About

  • [05:00] Nick’s beginning with the wolves
  • [14:50] How close exactly did Nick get to Romeo?
  • [20:35] How Romeo became friends with Nick’s labrador, Dakota
  • [27:00] How old the human-dog relationship is
  • [29:00] Wolves – the SuperDogs!
  • [33:30] Do wolves play with balls?
  • [24:30] Dances With Wolves – how accurately the wolf-human interaction portrayed in this film
  • [37:00] The special relationship between the Shoshone Indians and the local wolves
  • [38:45] If wolves really are a danger to people
  • [47:35] Romeo’s tragedy

How You Can Get Involved:

Buy A Wolf Called Romeo from Nick’s website and grab yourself a bargain as he pairs it up with The Giant’s Hand: A Life in Arctic Alaska for just $30! He’ll even personalize the books for you!

Keep Romeo’s story in your heart, and use it to remind yourself of how loving and amazing these often misunderstood creatures really are!  

Links & Resources

2 great videos of Nick speaking about Romeo

Learn more by tuning into the podcast!

Thanks for listening—and again, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on TODT App / iTunes / Spotify to get automatic updates.

Cheers,

~Doggy Dan 🙂

Voiceover:

Welcome to The Doggy Dan Podcast Show, helping you unleash the greatness within your dog.

Doggy Dan:

[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

Hello, and welcome everybody to another podcast, The Doggy Dan Podcast Show. Today, I am so excited, genuinely excited, to have a gentleman named Nick Jans, who is one of Alaska's most recognized and prolific writers. He has a wonderful, wonderful story to tell us. In the words of The New York Times, they're saying, "Jans is an exceptional storyteller. No nature writer can top him in terms of sheer emotional force." The story that he has to share with us today is, I don't know whether to say one of, no, it is the most fascinating and deeply moving stories about a wolf, true story, about a wolf and dogs, that I have ever come across.

[00:01:30]

Nick has written 12 books, hundreds of magazine articles. He's contributed to lots of other books. He's a professional nature photographer, specializing in Alaska wildlife, landscapes, that sort of stuff. Lives up there in Alaska a lot of the time. Does speaking, public speaking, presentations about all sorts of things, from grizzly bears to natural history specifically around that Alaska area. He's lived in the northwest of Alaska for 20 years with his wife, Sherrie, and many of their dogs. So, Nick, wonderful to have you on the podcast today.

Nick Jans:

Hey, Dan. So great to be here.

Doggy Dan:

[00:02:00]

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are in your own words, what you do, and what your passion is, what you love.

Nick Jans:

[00:02:30]

Well, the simple, short answer to that is big wild places and big wild animals. That's what brought me to Alaska or led me to Alaska in 1979. And I've actually spent a total of 40 years living in Alaska. 20 years in the northwest Arctic, the upper left-hand corner, think. And then I got married and moved 1,100 US miles south to Juneau, Alaska. Still within Alaska, and lived another 20 years, which is where the book I'm going to tell you about and the wolf story takes place. Not up in northwestern Alaska, but in the rainforest of southeast Alaska. Very, very different places in the same land, which is so vast you can hardly wrap your mind around it.

Doggy Dan:

[00:03:00]

Yeah. That's just incredible. And what were you doing all that time in Alaska? Is that an accurate description of what you did? Photography and bears and wolves and...

Nick Jans:

Oh, hell no.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah?

Nick Jans:

[00:03:30]

[00:04:00]

No. Oh, hell no. No. I came up there with a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere on a one-way run to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1979. And threw my canoe onto a floatplane and flew into the headwaters of the Kobuk River in northwest Alaska. Came down the Kobuk, came to a little Eskimo village, met a Dutch big-game guide who had a store there, and I said, "Hey, I'll work for you if you want me to." And he said, "Let me think about it." And he said, "Okay, you're hired." And so I finished my trip, which ended up being about 800 miles through the northwest Arctic, along with an old friend of mine. And he left and went home, like most people do when they come to Alaska and do a little wilderness adventure. And I ended up living in that Eskimo village and staying, and it's still the place on this planet that I call home. We're talking about 300 or so Inupiat Eskimos.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

And the nearest road grid is 350 US miles away. It's a long way.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

[00:04:30]

[00:05:00]

And you're out there and the country is staying the same. It's exactly what I hoped for in Alaska. Just big, clear water rivers draining big, wild valleys. No fences. No signs. No nothing. And very, very few people scattered thinly across this land where you have a complete assemblage of animals, wildlife, from apex carnivores, like wolves and grizzly bears, on down through, of course, caribou and moose and so on. But it really is about exactly how it was 5,000 years ago. Certainly 2,000 years ago. And so it's this place caught out of time, and that's what I went to Alaska for, was to be in this kind of a place. And I went there hoping to become a wildlife biologist for the State of Alaska and study wolves and bears.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

[00:05:30]

And instead, I ended up living with Inupiat wolf hunters and learning from them about wolves and bears. And in fact, accompanying them on their hunts and their trapping where I saw quite a few wolves die over the years, and some through my own gun sights when I was in my 20s and 30s. And I wish I could take every single bullet back, but of course, I can't.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah.

Nick Jans:

[00:06:00]

And maybe it's the telling of this story that I'm going to share with you about my meeting of a wild black wolf called Romeo, we called him Romeo, in Juneau, Alaska, is a way of improving my karma, gaining some penance, I don't know. It doesn't ever feel like it will be enough, but nonetheless, it's a true story of a friendship I had with a wild black wolf.

Doggy Dan:

[00:06:30]

[00:07:00]

[00:07:30]

Yeah. I'm fighting to keep the tears back, Nick. I'm quite an emotional guy. I feel things deep. And it feels like it's weird, you say what you say, because before we came on air, I thought, “Isn't it crazy that a man…” And I wasn't going to bring this up because it's your choice as to whether you own what you did with the hunting of the wolves. And you can own and I admire you and I take my hat off to you. But, I was thinking, “Isn't it weird that a man who hunted a few wolves, and I don't know exactly, but isn't it weird that you were then caught up in this phenomenal story of a black wolf who came out and you saw what you saw.” I don't want to steal your story, but yeah, it's just phenomenal that you bring that up at the start of the podcast and I honor you for that because it's a big part of the story. And like you, is it part of the karma that you have to keep telling this story, which I love.

Nick Jans:

[00:08:00]

[00:08:30]

Just so you know, I actually stopped hunting wolves a long, long time, I would say at least in younger years, a decade plus, I'd stopped killing wolves because I didn't like it as it was. But, I was traveling with guys like Clarence Wood who was a master outdoorsman who could glance at a set of tracks and tell if they were minutes, hours or days old at a glance. Who would lift his nostrils to the air around camp and take a deep sniff and he said, "Bear real close. I can smell him." He wasn't close to the natural world; he was part of the natural world. And so of course I wanted to be just like him. Here I'd come to be absorbed in the natural world and I wanted to know what he knew and see what he saw. And he wasn't killing wolves out of some sort of malice. It was out of a deep set connection with the land. I would say that he was very business-like about it and very good about it.

[00:09:00]

He wasn't using sled dogs; he was using a snowmobile. But even riding a snowmobile and in this vast untracked landscape, it's incredibly difficult to even find wolves let alone catch up with them and kill them.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, yeah.

Nick Jans:

And so going along with him was definitely a part of my education and I don't think that my lifecycle would be complete without having that first and then having met this wolf that we call Romeo.

Doggy Dan:

[00:09:30]

[00:10:00]

Totally, totally. So tell us about the story, Nick. What happened in your own words? Part of me wants to tell the story. But, just very briefly for people. Well, let me start actually. No, no, you go. It's your story. You say what... Let me just say this, I picked up this book. I wasn't really sure. I'm looking at this beast of an animal on the front, which is, you got to have a look at the book. It's called A Wolf Called Romeo and there's this huge black wolf. I say a beast in the most loving way, and it's towering over this fully grown Labrador. And it's like, whoa, that thing is just enormous. And the posture and the calmness and the power and the love just capture me every time I look at that photo. That's what I did. I picked up the book and sat in bed and read it and thought, wow, I'd love to chat to this guy. And here I am.

Nick Jans:

[00:10:30]

[00:11:00]

[00:11:30]

Well so, here's the basic gist of the whole thing is that not even in Alaska, where of course we all believe anything can happen, but not even in Alaska do you ever get to be friends with a wild animal over a period of time. And we're not talking about a squirrel. We're talking about a wild black male wolf of the kind that would be a dominant creature among his own kind. He would be a pack leader and everything else that went with it. He would be the sire of many pups and he would be a tremendous hunter and a guarder of territory because of just his sheer size and confirmation in musculature. So, he wasn't just any wolf. He was an exceptional wolf physically, and as it turned out, he was also an exceptional wolf in all kinds of ways. Wolves are individuals. They're very much like us in that every one of us is different and we all have our own particular ways. And there are I would say, with quotes around them, good wolves and bad wolves and lazy wolves and hardworking wolves and sociable wolves and grumpy wolves, all of the above, who knows.

[00:12:00]

[00:12:30]

And I've observed many wolves over the years, including many without shooting. And so I'd already seen at least 200 wolves and spent some social time around wolves in the wild in Alaska before I met this wolf we called Romeo. I'd moved from northwest Arctic Alaska, gotten married and was living in the “suburbs” of Juneau. Population 32,000, still no road going into it, but it was the state capital. And hey, there were big box stores like Walmart and things like that there. There was a jet airport that led out to Seattle and the world beyond. So, it was kind of ironic that Sherrie and I built a house on the shore of Mendenhall Lake. She'd already lived there for 10 years and had moved from Florida and become a dental hygienist in Alaska, because she too was looking for big wild country. And that was the connection that brought us together.

[00:13:00]

So anyway, we end up building a house on the shore of Mendenhall Lake with the Mendenhall Glacier two miles across the lake. And we didn't know that we were building that house so that two years later a wolf would wander out of the mountains and out onto the frozen lake in the winter. And meet our dog, Dakota, which is what's on the cover, and meet us. And that we would have this, you can't call it anything but a friendship.

Doggy Dan:

Yep.

Nick Jans:

[00:13:30]

[00:14:00]

[00:14:30]

There's no other word that does. Why do we hang around people? Because we like them. Okay, what makes friendship? Who knows what brings people together or people and animals together, but just like with dogs, as you well know, Dan, is that some dogs like each other and some dogs don't. And some dogs are drawn to each other and some less so, even if they're sociable. But, there was a connection between this wolf and our dog that, with time, radiated out to us and definitely included us so that I could ski out on the lake and the wolf would see me and either not run or he would trot toward me and we would sit just out on the ice. I'd lean on my ski poles and he'd sit down and blink. And I'd say, "How are you doing wolf?" Maybe he would stop 50 meters away, sometimes it would be 100, sometimes it would be 25 feet. I never knew. But, I respected whatever distance he chose and he'd let me know which it was. And sometimes it was breathtakingly close and sometimes it was not so much, depending on the situation, how many people were there, how many dogs were there.

Doggy Dan:

What was the closest you actually got to him ever? How close did he ever come?

Nick Jans:

[00:15:00]

I got so close that I had to push him away with my ski pole. I put my ski pole between him and a puppy because he was getting too excited about it and the puppy was fearful and so was the puppy's owner. A woman who had just run into the wolf for the first time and I knew the wolf. And I skied over to help her. I don't know if anything bad would've happened. I think not, but nonetheless, she was frightened, the puppy was frightened. And here's this 110 pound wolf who's right in her grill, less than two meters away.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

... some of the time.

Doggy Dan:

That's amazing.

Nick Jans:

[00:15:30]

[00:16:00]

And I got in between and stuck my ski pole out. And that was not in the later years. That was right about in the middle of the time I knew him. Our relationship developed incredibly fast. And just so we understand each other, it wasn't just me. There were a number of people in Juneau, Alaska who met this wolf and called him friend. And hundreds more who knew him by sight and knew about him somewhat. And then there were a few who saw him now and then and didn't really care one way or the other or if they did, it still wasn't enough to make them seek it. And so on down the line, there was a sliding scale. Some people just didn't care. Some people in Juneau, Alaska, just like anywhere else in Alaska, they see a wolf and they think well that's a bad thing, let's kill it right away.

[00:16:30]

[00:17:00]

[00:17:30]

And so this wolf shows up and starts playing with dogs. That's the short version of this story. A wolf who plays with dogs, dances with dogs. And he's a giant black wolf. He's very young obviously, maybe a year and a half. He couldn't have been three. He had that goofy adolescent canine aspect that we all get. You can tell a puppy head and he was still a little bit of a puppy head, but he was a giant puppy. And he was certainly a full grown wolf. And where he came from, we'll never know. But, it's possible that he just grew up in his family group, which is what a pack is, mom, dad and the kids, and left as we all hope our own children leave home eventually and find their own fortunes. Or maybe he was a survivor of a pack that got trapped or hunted out because there certainly was one within several miles. Or, something else. He may have been a disperser, he may have come hundreds or even a thousand or more miles to end up where he ended up, because wolves do that. They have this incredible way, certain wolves, not every wolf, of just taking off in a straight line and changing their fortunes. It's like an Italian immigrant finding himself at the Statue of Liberty and then immigrating to California to grow grapes within the country.

Doggy Dan:

Aww.

Nick Jans:

It's that sort of a thing. It's a big idea and wolves do that.

Doggy Dan:

[00:18:00]

[00:18:30]

I think for me the amazing thing is it is almost like a Walt Disney sort of style movie in a way in that he learned how to befriend dogs and he learned how to trust people. And he did all of this on his own. He always looked so well fed and healthy and happy and had just such a beautiful personality. It's almost like you couldn't have written a more fantastical story as to how he would have interacted with humans and dogs. And he seemed fascinated with the dogs more than people. I think I've got that right?

Nick Jans:

[00:19:00]

[00:19:30]

Oh, of course, yes. He certainly was led to canines and that's pretty normal because wolves are sociable creatures, they're social creatures. They live in a family group just like we do. They don't like being alone. And somehow he washed up on our strange shores and I think he knew that the dogs weren't wolves, but they would do. And he liked dogs and he was very, very patient with them. And dogs would meet him. Juneau's a big dog town. And so people would come out to the lake. We're talking about on a nice Winter day, there might be dozens of dogs off-leash because it's one place in Juneau where you could let your dog off leash and let him run around. And people cross-country skied, they sledded with their kids, they played hockey, they took a walk in the sun and looked at this unbelievably beautiful Winter backdrop. People would come from thousands of miles around the world just to see what I saw every morning, drinking coffee. And for six years, it had a wolf in it. Not all the time, but a lot of the time.

[00:20:00]

[00:20:30]

And I would look out of my window and there would be a wolf out there on the ice. And I would put on my skies and I would go out, sometimes alone and sometimes with the dogs. And he would trot along with us or he'd ask to play. From the start, I realized it was a very tenuous thing. And I was not the first person to let our dogs play with the wolf. I learned that from a woman who skied out with her husky mix and I said, "You better be careful. There's a wolf out there." And she says, "Oh, yeah. My dog and he have been playing for a while." And I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "The last couple of weeks." And I watched along and I was totally flabbergasted.

[00:21:00]

And I took our dogs out, well actually we took just Dakota out of our three dogs at that time. And she managed, while being very well behaved and no tension on the leash, to, all of a sudden, jerk it away from me. As the wolf was coming out on the ice to meet us, she was running toward the wolf. She couldn't contain herself. And they stopped and looked at each other and that's where that picture was. The very first time Dakota and Romeo met. And Romeo got his name from-

Doggy Dan:

[00:21:30]

Wow. So, it looks like that. It looks like the first meeting. There's a real respect there and an inquisitiveness, and yet their noses, for those of you who aren't looking at the picture like I am, their noses are about six inches apart, or a foot apart. And we'll make sure that that picture is available to you on, well it's available on Nick's website and we'll put it up on ours so you can see it because it is one of the greatest photos I've ever seen, in terms of wolves and dogs.

Nick Jans:

[00:22:00]

[00:22:30]

Well, for anyone who's interested, my website is NickJans.com, and there are pictures there and there's stories I've written about Romeo and also other stuff. And also photos and video links to YouTube both to presentations I've made, also to just clips of the wolf doing everything from howling in his beautiful falsetto baritone to forging through deep snow. And some of these are amateur videos and some of them are better than that. But, there's just stuff online about him. And he's been the topic of a number of Internet slideshows that pop up with Taboola and other things where they sponsor it with ads, but they tell stories. And many of the people that I'm contacted by are people who saw the Internet slideshows, which seem sort of commercial, and they are. But nonetheless, the story that they tell is essentially true, if brief.

[00:23:00]

[00:23:30]

I helped write the captions for them at their request because I figured one thing I want to do is this book and telling this story is not about making money for me. And I would put in parentheses, if you want to make money as a writer, don't do it. Do something else. But anyway, what's important to me is that people know this story of Romeo the wolf and of his six years among us because it's a story of our time. It's a story about our relationship between ourselves and the natural world, which is growing all the time more strained because the natural world (A) is going away, and (B) we're becoming more and more urbanized and staring into screens instead of going out and living life.

[00:24:00]

And it's this little snapshot in time and it is a tragedy, in the true Shakespearean sense of the word. It's not a story that has a lot of suspense. If you're paying attention, you know in the first few pages how this will end, and it will not end well. But, we know that about Romeo and Juliet too, the stage manager in Shakespeare gets out front and tells you, these two star crossed lovers are going to take their lives and you're going to watch this happen. And that's what this was like.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah.

Nick Jans:

It’s watching something happen and being in this magical moment and...

Doggy Dan:

[00:24:30]

Yeah, I was going to say it is a beautifully written book in that sense in that early on I kind of got that gist. And I thought, oh my gosh, do I want to go there? But, it was like watching Summer, knowing Winter was coming, and just the detail. And I can feel, I feel like I've been to Juneau. I feel like I've stood on that piece of frozen ice. I can feel it. I've seen the photos. I feel like I've lived so much of that and I've got you to thank for that and Romeo to thank for that and, yeah, it was beautiful.

[00:25:00]

Can I ask you, what do you feel... What words would you say summarize Romeo's personality? Because I kind of feel I know, having read the book, but for people listening... What was the message that you feel he really brought? You've kind of touched on it, but his personality and the message he brought, what would you say?

Nick Jans:

[00:25:30]

Well first of all, he was incredibly physically imposing, intelligent, and at the same time, amazingly sociable. That was the thing about him was how sociable he was. Usually when you see a wild wolf, it's a fleeting glimpse and it's disappearing over the horizon. It's a furry butt getting smaller because they learned long ago that we are trouble and that we bring trouble. And wolves that haven't learned that learn it the hard way, with a bullet.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, yeah.

Nick Jans:

[00:26:00]

[00:26:30]

So, here comes this wolf who just says, “To hell with that,” and here's the key part of the story is he, as a wolf, has 98% roughly of the genes that even a teacup chihuahua has, let alone an Alaskan malamute or a Rhodesian ridgeback or a Labrador retriever. They all are about 2% separated from wolves, which is hard to believe. But obviously, that 2% looms huge. So, here is the prototype of the beast of nightmares that comes to lie by our fire and becomes man's best friend.

[00:27:00]

[00:27:30]

Think about it. He is the living link to that other time because every dog that we hold, every dog that we pet, every dog that we see came from wolves and was domesticated and muted and shaped by us deliberately to become, not this powerful wild thing that doesn't recognize us as boss, to someone who may have in an evolutionary sense actually pushed us over the top, homo-sapiens, to that next level where the neanderthals did not, because they did not have dogs and homo-sapiens did. Very truly, they may have been man's best friend. And this is confirmed by the archeological record. You have to remember that dogs and humans go back at least 30,000 years.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

And those dogs came from wolves.

Doggy Dan:

We go back, way back. Way back, back into time. So, that's lovely. I actually had a very strong bond with a very powerful Alaskan Malamute. I think they... I'm trying to remember. They used to say he was a Husky, I think. But, he was a German Shepherd cross Malamute in my mind.

Nick Jans:

Sure.

Doggy Dan:

[00:28:00]

And he was called Hudson. I've got a picture in front of me. And he reminds me so much in many ways of Romeo. And he was huge. He was so powerful. He was so intelligent and he was very loving and warm. In that sense, yeah, it's a classical combination of what I feel with Romeo was, he had this huge heart and he had this huge power, very powerful and loving at the same time.

Nick Jans:

Right.

Doggy Dan:

[00:28:30]

And for me, that is the fascination because, even with humans, you rarely see love and power combined like that.

Nick Jans:

[00:29:00]

[00:29:30]

Yeah. And that was the thing, is Romeo, one thing I left out before was that he was a very, very kind and patient animal. There were many dogs who came up to him to meet him and behaved poorly. They got snarky, they even attacked. He got attacked by two German Shepherd dogs, one of whom ripped open a hole on his back between his shoulder blades. And all he did was repel those dogs. He could've ripped their throats out because, Dan, when you were saying that your dog, Hudson, reminded you of a wolf, people say that all the time about Alaska huskies. But, comparing, I don't care, the mightiest dog in the world to a wild black powerful young male wolf is like comparing a top-of-the-line race horse to a very nice mule. And that's not to talk bad about your dog. That's just to show the difference between all of our dogs and what a wolf is.

[00:30:00]

They are super-dogs. They are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. You name it. And we dumbed them down so that we could control them and so that they would like us. And that process took a long time because really, if you look at it, who's the better half, dogs or us? Well, the dogs have it. And somehow we fooled them into buying into our barter. We'll take care of you. You just have to hang around us.

Doggy Dan:

Yep, yep.

Nick Jans:

[00:30:30]

And I'm always humbled by the unconditional love that dogs have for us. And wolves don't have unconditional love for people, but they have the root of all that greatness in them. Everything that a dog is, a wolf is and more.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah, yeah. I hear you. I totally hear you. I totally get it, the power. I guess that's why I love this story. It's why I love the wolves because I love my dogs and I also see the extremeness of the wolf that they are, like you say, super-dogs in many ways.

[00:31:00]

[00:31:30]

Can you talk to us? I'm sure there's been a time where with the wolf, you touched on... It actually made me laugh when you talked about some of the dogs that weren't very well behaved and came up to Romeo. I loved that bit in the book and I'm kind of thinking of how many people are listening to this going, "Yep. I would not have let my dogs near that wolf. I know what my dogs would've been like, yapping away and how dangerous it would've been." So were there any other times where you thought, “Oh my goodness me, this is not good or this is dangerous or this is crazy?” Or, a time where you couldn't believe what actually happened or what you saw? Something which was just not what you were expecting, a real Wow, A-ha moment that surprised you almost, with the wolf that you can share.

Nick Jans:

[00:32:00]

[00:32:30]

Well, I had A-ha moments almost every week all Winter long for six years. And I had amazing experiences and saw things that I couldn't believe, et cetera, et cetera. And saw times of extreme danger for the wolf. All of the above. My heart was in my throat so many times and yet it's so hard to sort out one moment. But let's say this, and this was after Romeo had met Dakota, but before we really got to know the wolf, and what we did is, we took our dogs, Chase, who is an Australian cattle dog, and about a two year old, our older dog, a black retired seeing eye dog named Gus, and Dakota, who's six or seven years old at the time, maybe eight years old, female yellow lab.

[00:33:00]

[00:33:30]

We took them out to meet the wolf and what we did was, we wanted to watch the wolf, because he was very interested in the dogs, but also sort of keep them apart by throwing balls with flingers out on the ice. And the dogs would chase the balls down and Romeo would watch. And this was about three weeks after we'd first seen him. And so, there we stood throwing balls for the dogs who are fetching them. And some of the dogs are quite aware there's a wolf over there and they totally tell us, “that's not quite right over there. Do you see that thing?” Chase especially, the cattle dog.

[00:34:00]

[00:34:30]

But the wolf watched and watched and watched. I threw a ball and it went long and rolled within about 20 meters of the wolf and he ran over and grabbed that tennis ball and threw it up in the air and pounced and ran off with it. And that was one of the big A-ha moments of my life, is just that, that [Romeo] is a dog in wolf's clothing. That's where this all started. This is it. This is the moment when tens of thousands of years ago, or maybe even more than that, a man or a woman, who knows who, held out a bone and the wolf took it; threw a toy and the wolf accepted that. And to that extent, Dances With Wolves, with Kevin Costner, that interchange between him and that wolf, as one who'd been around wolves, felt totally authentic and totally accurate.

Doggy Dan:

Yes.

Nick Jans:

[00:35:00]

[00:35:30]

[00:36:00]

It was just like it could be. That is not made up. And in the time I was living in northwest Alaska, I had a number of sociable wolves come close to me. But, the problem is, is that a wolf comes close to you and what ends up happening? We end up scared and the wolf ends up dead. If it's not us, it's the next person. Or if it's not scared, they see that they're doing a duty or they see that, “Wow, there's a several-hundred-dollar very nice fur that I could have just by killing this wolf. And of course I can because that's okay.”

And then there are people who see them as four-legged cockroaches and something totally to be eliminated. Our relationship with wolves is amazingly conflicted and always has been. They've always been a competitor with us and yet, again, they are where our best friend in the whole animal world [came from]... Think of the inter-species bond we have between Canis Familiaris and Homo Sapiens. There is no closer and more unique bond in the animal world and that came from wolves. That came from Romeo.

Doggy Dan:

[00:36:30]

Beautiful. So beautiful. It does make me smile when you mention the Kevin Costner movie because I remember watching Dances With Wolves and loving that part about the wolves. And like you say, it felt so genuine. And when you describe what happened with Romeo, it does make me think, yeah, it was exactly like that, and it has to be, that it was a confident, kind, gentle, sociable wolf like Romeo that would've made that first connection with humans thousands and thousands of years ago.

Nick Jans:

Yep.

Doggy Dan:

That would've developed that bond and trust and that the other wolves would've seen and followed. So, we are almost watching one of the first wolves that crossed that boundary in terms of a similar type of that's how it would've happened.

Nick Jans:

Sure, sure. More likely is what would happen is, you get a sociable wolf and one that starts following you around and getting food from your camp, because of course hunter-gatherers, right?

Doggy Dan:

Yeah.

Nick Jans:

[00:37:00]

[00:37:30]

And starts hanging out, and it is absolutely true that the high plains Indians in the mountains, Indians of western North America, like the Shoshone. They call them the sheep people, but they had a special relationship, the Shoshone Indians who existed along with the Sioux and the Comanches and the better known Blackfeet Tribe, but the Shoshone had a special relationship with wolves that was observed in the US back in the mid 1800s by a number of observers. And the Shoshone had wolves that lived outside of camp and were clearly wolves and they had dogs that stayed in camp. And they took care of both. They fed the wolves and they said the wolves were their helpers. If you were out lost, if a young man was out lost in a storm, a wolf might feed him and lead him home.

Doggy Dan:

No.

Nick Jans:

[00:38:00]

[00:38:30]

That's what they thought. It was the exact opposite. They had that sort of a relationship. They thought wolves were a good thing. And to keep that same thing in mind, remember that Lewis and Clark in 1802, when they walked across the vast continent of North America and encountered this American Serengeti, which truly it was, millions of bison and herds of elk and deer and antelope stretched out across this great rolling plain. And there were wolves there and they called them “the shepherds of the buffalo.”

Doggy Dan:

Why?

Nick Jans:

They did not complain about... Because the wolves hung with the buffalo and ate the dead and killed the weak and took care of them. But meanwhile, Lewis and Clark shot bear after bear, about 50 grizzlies and made a big to-do about how dangerous they were. But, not once in their journals did they mention having problems with wolves.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

[00:39:00]

And that again just goes to show you that it doesn't have to be... And you have to remember that in the entire history of North America, in the lower 48, zero people have ever been authenticated to have been killed by wolves. Zero, zero.

Doggy Dan:

Wow.

Nick Jans:

[00:39:30]

[00:40:00]

[00:40:30]

By wild wolves, I'm not talking about domesticated wolves or a wolf dog that was hybridized or whatever. But, I'm talking about wild wolves in the wild, rabies doesn't count. Nothing, zero, going back to the pilgrims and before, not one. And in the entire history of Canada and Alaska, one each. One in Canada and one in Alaska, both in fairly recent times. And I do believe that each one was killed by wolves. But, that's two people. That is up there with being struck in the head by a comet, the odds of that. Meanwhile, you have to remember that in the US alone, 30 plus thousand people a year die in automobile accidents. 30,000 a year. Several hundred a year in the US are seriously injured or killed in dog attacks. But yet, in the entire history of our stay on the North American continent, we're talking about two deaths. Two deaths and both happened within the last 20 years, very recent.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah. I think one of the things with wolves that strikes me is, unfortunately, there are so few of them around. We don't know them. We don't really know their true nature. And the more I learn about them, I start to learn how incredibly shy and beautiful they actually are, and what we've been told about them isn't quite, well it's not very accurate at all. It makes total sense to me.

Nick Jans:

[00:41:00]

[00:41:30]

Yep. I've never once felt threatened by a wolf, even when I've had them come running at me from a long distance away and they were investigating me. At the same time, I had the crap scared out of me by grizzlies. I've been terrified by moose and had to keep my wits about me and run. There are several times I thought I was dead from a bear, but never once in the dozens and hundreds of wolves that I met, including when they're howling in the dark, in a snowstorm, and there you are huddled around a dying campfire, quite literally happened to me in 1980. And even then, I did not feel threatened, and I was not.

Doggy Dan:

[00:42:00]

Incredible, incredible. Nick, it's been wonderful chatting to you. I want to mention this before I forget. Before we came on air, you mentioned that somebody's actually looking at putting an artistic piece together in dedication to Romeo. Do you want to mention that? Talk about that? It sounded beautiful.

Nick Jans:

[00:42:30]

[00:43:00]

Yeah. It's pretty exciting. This is in Juneau, Alaska, which is still a town of 30,000. I don't live there anymore. I spend half my time in Alaska, which is half the year out on Haines Highway and I spend the other half the year usually in north Florida with my Florida-raised wife who had moved to Alaska and just had had enough of being cold and wet. I kind of “Winter like a sissy” in north Florida as I say. But, I still go back to Alaska every year. Even though I'm delayed right now, I should be in Alaska now, but I'm delayed by the virus. I'm staying here and I hope to go back in late Summer and go up to the Arctic. And I'll be in a landscape where I'll see wolves. Pretty much every year, if I'm out there, I will glimpse a wolf or two and that is enough to define the landscape to me.

[00:43:30]

[00:44:00]

But anyhow, I've kind bird-walked away from the initial question because, the way the story is, and if you read it, you would find it that same way, that every chapter starts off with Romeo and it morphs into something else and then comes back to him by chapter's end. And that happens again and again. It's a very complex story. If you are looking for a page turning plot, go pick up something by the supermarket checkout, please. This is a book that demands your attention. There's more information than I can possibly pack in it that I couldn't fit about wolves and dogs and people and dogs. It's the story of all those things and our dark conflicted relationship going back all these thousands of years. It's the story of all dogs and all people and all wolves together through the lens of this one exceptional wolf that we came to call Romeo.

Doggy Dan:

[00:44:30]

[00:45:00]

That is beautiful. I'm not a great reader. I struggle to read. A book really has to grab me for me to actually finish it, to be honest. I've probably got more books in my house that I've never read, than I have read. But, this is definitely one that, I knocked it out. Yeah, I knocked this book out in a week, which for me, that's fast. May have been 10 days, but that's super fast. That's like a chapter a day sort of thing. Every day I wanted to read it. And there's a lovely bit at the end where, there are you and a few other guys who loved Romeo, dedicating a plaque to Romeo. But, you were saying about this artistic piece that a performer or a song cycle you're saying is going to be put together for Romeo.

Nick Jans:

Oh, yeah. Oh, sorry, sorry.

Doggy Dan:

No, that's all good.

Nick Jans:

Yeah, thank you for giving me a second chance. I totally knew I got off and wandered away from the question.

Doggy Dan:

All good.

Nick Jans:

[00:45:30]

[00:46:00]

[00:46:30]

So, there's a fellow named William Todd Hunt and he is a composer and a musician. We're talking about classically trained with a university degree in music and composition. And he lives in Juneau and he contacted me a few weeks ago and he was thinking of making an opera about Romeo. And my mother was an operatic soprano, but I was trying to figure out how that would go. But at the same time, I knew that he is a serious composer the same way that I am a serious writer. He's good at what he does and quite avant guard and not afraid to take risks. And so we started talking about it. And now his current plan is to make a song cycle, which is, in the formal sense of the word, a series of musical pieces that involve voices and a small orchestra. We're talking about 17 musicians including a string quartet, a French horn, a trombone, a saxophone, flutes, the standard thing, a piano I think. And these two singers singing about Romeo using lines taken and adapted from my book, A Wolf Called Romeo.

[00:47:00]

[00:47:30]

And that's slated to be developed in a couple of years, to come out in two years. And I was just looking at his libretto today and it really is a humbling and remarkable experience. And beyond that, by the way, there have been, I don't know how many times I've gotten hits from Hollywood or from TV wanting to do something or interested in doing something about telling Romeo's story. But so far, nothing really has worked out. It just hasn't gone that far. And what's really interesting is a lot of people, including BBC and the Discovery Channel and so on, said, "Well, that's all a great story. But, it's just too sad." And the thing is, they're not getting it.

Doggy Dan:

Yeah.

Nick Jans:

It's life.

Doggy Dan:

It is life.

Nick Jans:

[00:48:00]

You can't turn away from life. And the sorrow does not take away the magic of the story. This wolf was shot. He was killed by two poachers who did it on purpose. They did it to cause pain. They wanted to kill the wolf. But the thing is, they don't even matter. They can't take away the magic. They can't take away the love. There was this time that we knew a wolf called Romeo, and that is the story I'm telling is the story of his time among us.

Doggy Dan:

I hear you, Nick, and I feel you. Yeah. There was a time when Romeo walked this Earth … I love it, yeah.

Nick Jans:

[00:48:30]

[00:49:00]

Yeah. Just so you know, I make one of my presentations onboard a cruise ship, which I'm not doing this year because of the virus. But, I would do this on Princess Cruises and sometimes there'd be 200 people there and sometimes there would be 500 people there. But at the end of that time in the theater where I'm small on a stage and the audience goes way back into the dark, there would be dead silence at the end of the show every single time. I'm talking about Romeo and showing pictures and videos and reading from my book and it's dead silence and oftentimes half the people in there are choked up and either weeping or trying not to.

Doggy Dan:

Yep.

Nick Jans:

[00:49:30]

[00:50:00]

And that to me, that's the power of the story to me. It is that it is something that others should know because it is transformative. Not in a bad way, in a good way. It makes us, I would hope, I can't say it makes us, but the story leads us toward a deeper acceptance of the wild and our place within the natural world and our connection to it. And as that is manifested by the creatures that we all have in our homes, Canis Familiaris, these wonderful, wonderful dogs.

Doggy Dan:

[00:50:30]

I love it when you speak like that Nick and it's a beautiful ending. I was going to ask you what message you feel it brought to this world and you've summed it up that, even though he was shot and killed, that there was a time when a wolf walked on this Earth and he became friends with men and dogs. It's a beautiful story. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nick Jans:

[00:51:00]

[00:51:30]

Absolutely. And he's still... Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm honored and I appreciate you reaching out to me. Last night, I got a very fervent email in Spanish from Spain from someone who had just finished reading the Spanish edition. A Wolf Called Romeo is out in, I think, a total of eight languages, including Spanish. And this guy sent me this note with no attempt at English, just in Spanish, hoping that I would understand. And I'd taken just enough high school Spanish and paid attention just enough that I could respond. And I ended it with Romeo da vive, Romeo lives yet.

Doggy Dan:

He does.

Nick Jans:

[00:52:00]

He does. People reach out from around the world and it's a rare day when I don't get at least one email from somebody somewhere or a note shows up in my box. And I have a stranger who wants to talk about Romeo. And I answer every single one as best I can within reason. But, I do answer every single one.

Doggy Dan:

[00:52:30]

Yeah. It's beautiful. I appreciate you coming on the show. For me, Romeo is an inspiration because he embodies so much of what I want to become as a man or as a woman. I want to become so powerful and strong and bring so much love and bring all of me, all of who I am, all of my passion, all of my love into this world and do it with confidence. And that's what Romeo did.

Nick Jans:

Sure.

Doggy Dan:

[00:53:00]

So for all of you guys listening, if you want to find out more, the website again is NickJans.com. And that's where there are some beautiful photos and Nick's book, A Wolf Called Romeo, but also lots of other books. And if you go to my website it's the onlinedogtrainer.com/Romeo. And yeah, get your hands on a book and watch the YouTube videos. The links are there. I'm going to buy a picture. I so want to get a photo of Romeo to put somewhere because he is a beautiful wolf. And I'll leave the last phrase to you, Nick. Anything else you want to say?

Nick Jans:

Well first of all, I will be happy to send you a jpeg. Get it printed there because the postage is what's ridiculous between us and New Zealand.

Doggy Dan:

Thank you.

Nick Jans:

[00:53:30]

I'll send you a picture and it'll be big enough. I'll look great. That's the cheapest way to do that.

Doggy Dan:

Aw, thank you.

Nick Jans:

[00:54:00]

[00:54:30]

[00:55:00]

But anyway, still I would say that after all this time, you have to remember that Romeo lived among us in Juneau, Alaska from 2003 to 2009, six years. The average wild wolf, by the way, in Alaska lives about three years, that's it. He was already two years old when he met us so he had almost tripled the length of time that you would expect a wild wolf to live. That's without human interference. And after all this time, that wolf is a part of each and every day. He's part of who I am, and it's not some mystical thing, it just happened. And it's something you can't ever expect, but every once in a while in life, we get a gift and it explains the reason we're here. And that was meeting that wolf and bearing witness and telling his story.

Doggy Dan:

Thank you, Nick.

Nick Jans:

Thank you, Dan.

Doggy Dan:

It's been an honor and a pleasure to chat to you.

Nick Jans:

You bet.

Doggy Dan:

Wow. Love you man.

Nick Jans:

Okay. Thank you.

Doggy Dan:

Somebody once said to me that there's two types of tears, the bad tears and the good tears.

Nick Jans:

Right.

Doggy Dan:

And all the tears that I've shed on this podcast are good tears.

Nick Jans:

Right.

Doggy Dan:

[00:55:30]

[00:56:00]

They're tears of just I'm feeling the love of that wolf and it's the same love I have when I think of my dear dog Peanut who passed away. And so I encourage anyone who's feeling the tears and the love to let it flow. I've long stopped trying to stop my tears from flowing because I feel good when I feel. It brings me alive. I feel the feelings of love and I let them flow and that's why I started this podcast. So, to bring Romeo into it and to meet you and chat to you, Nick, has been, it's almost a completion. I've done what I wanted to achieve. We'll have more podcasts, but...

Nick Jans:

Well shucks, I hope so.

Doggy Dan:

It's been a special one for me. So thank you, Nick.

Nick Jans:

[00:56:30]

I hope so. And just so you know when I was 13 years old, my parents had a little sit down with me and they said, "Nicky, when are you going to stop crying? You're 13 years old. It's time to be a big boy." And I told them I didn't know. And the answer is that here I am, I'm 65 years old and I have never stopped. There's nothing wrong with that.

Doggy Dan:

[00:57:00]

Ah, that's it. Yeah. Well, I hear you totally. I'm 47 and I think I stopped for about 20 years. I tried to stop and I did stop and it's not something I'm proud of because I wasn't being all of me. I feel much more alive now I can express my feelings and when I feel it, it's like wow. It's in honor of Romeo and in honor of being a human being that I let my emotions flow.

Nick Jans:

Oh, yeah.

Doggy Dan:

So, it's funny we have that connection. I love it, I love it.

Nick Jans:

[00:57:30]

[00:58:00]

Yep, yep. Well, that's how it should be. In Shakespeare, I'm trying to remember, oh, it's from Macbeth. When Macduff finds that his wife and his children have been killed by Macbeth who's of course a bad guy even though we root for him, and he breaks down and starts sniffling. And he's this great warrior, Macduff. And the bringer of the news, the king who's on the rise who will take Macbeth's place says, "Dispute it like a man." And he said, "I will. But first, I must feel it like a man."

Doggy Dan:

Oh, yeah. Wow, what a powerful podcast. This has taken me in directions I didn't expect. But, it's all good and I've loved it. I've loved it. And so thank you. And go to that website, guys. And thank you so much. It's been truly awesome. Thank you, Nick, and thank you, Romeo.

Nick Jans:

You bet. Thanks a lot, Dan.

Doggy Dan:

[00:58:30]

You're welcome. All right, guys. You've been listening to another edition of the Doggy Dan podcast show. Thank you so much for listening and go grab that book. Check out A Wolf Called Romeo. Have a great day. Bye-bye.

Voiceover:

You've been listening to another episode of the Doggy Dan podcast show. Bringing you one step closer to creating harmony with your dog.

Doggy Dan

Doggy Dan is the founder of The Online Dog Trainer, a wildly successful online training program for dog owners. His goal is to continue to share his unique approach to dog training with like-minded people who wish to make a difference in the world of dogs. His training methods focus on creating and building the connection between dogs and dog owners, and are shared and used around the world.

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