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Help the McNeil Bear Sanctuary off linmits to hunting

Where for Art Thou Romeo? 

Juneau's Lone Wolf Elusive as Ever

Rhonda McBride / KTUU-TV / April 24, 2009

JUNEAU, Alaska -- A lone wolf locals call Romeo is a frequent topic of conversation in Juneau.

Stories about him go back more than five years, when he first appeared at the Mendenhall Glacier.

He's not a tourist attraction, and for many locals, Romeo is a part of Juneau they'd like to keep to themselves.

Feeling free can be a feeling you get when wildlife is so close. In Juneau, that connection can be almost spiritual.

"He's part of Juneau's wintertime lore," Steve Quinn, a reporter for the Associated Press, said. "People talk about him. People who have lived here for years have never seen him."

Quinn says it's magical to see Romeo in person.

"His eyes are mesmerizing," Quinn said. "He has these copper eyes that grab you and they hold onto you."

Romeo has a hold on Quinn, emotionally if not physically: Quinn will soon be leaving Juneau for a job in Philadelphia.

No matter where Quinn goes he says he'll never forget the first time he heard Romeo.

"Fog was setting on the lake, and it reduced Romeo to this black outline," Quinn said. "You can hear the howling. It was a piercing howl. And it was somewhat sad. But as long as you hear the howl, you know he's OK, and you know he's still around."

A wolf by any other name would still be a predator. Romeo is that -- and more.

In the winter, Romeo lives at Mendenhall Glacier where he is a solitary figure.

Some speculate his pack was killed off.

"First time I saw him was on a day like this," Quinn said one winter afternoon. "It was a beautiful day and he was sleeping right out there."

It's easy to find Romeo's tracks.

"The size of his paw is the size of some people's hands. The snout is very big. His strides are graceful, but they're also very strong," Quinn said. "The expressions, especially when he opens his mouth and you see a wolf -- you no longer see a dog."

A Channel 2 News crew caught a glimpse of him as a snowmachine breaking trail for skiers passed by.

Romeo climbed on a rock to check out the scene.

"I always say Romeo is as curious about us as we are of him," Quinn said.

Romeo's curiosity about other dogs has been well documented.

You can see him on YouTube socializing with other people's pets.

Even though Romeo seems like the bigger threat, wildlife experts worry that dog owners who encourage these encounters put him at risk and could get the wolf in trouble.

In an account documented by National Public Radio, Romeo grabbed a pug and ran toward the woods with the pug in his mouth.

In the NPR interview, a local bicyclist tells the story about how she saw Romeo run about three yards with the pug in his mouth, and then drop the pug in the snow.

The pug came out completely fine.

Some speculate Romeo was treating the pug like a pup in the pack, trying to get him out of the way.

At the Juneau Visitor's Center, you'll find a wolf on display. The wolf was hit by a taxi cab and was pregnant with four cubs.

Some speculate she was Romeo's mate, while others say she was too old, and is more likely his mother.

"When I leave Juneau, I'll wonder if he's doing OK, because you hear about people who think the wolf should be shot or taken elsewhere," Quinn said. "You still have to be careful, but he's there for people to enjoy. And I get to share him now when I go away."

Romeo's fans say it's more important that pet owners take responsibility, and keep their dogs on a leash at the glacier.

And the appearance of a new gray wolf adds to the unpredictability of interactions with Romeo.

Contact Rhonda McBride at rmcbride@ktuu.com

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