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Tacomans dubbed this disfigured but hardy coyote 'Jawless Jerry'

A person with short, strawberry-blond bangs holds up a black shirt with a drawing of a coyote on it and the words "Long Live Jawless Jerry." The coyote in the drawing has no nose.
Nina Hartman
Grit City Magazine
Nina Hartman, the artist behind Grit City Magazine's "Long Live Jawless Jerry" t-shirts and stickers, felt inspired by the Tacoma coyote who's managed to survive with no nose and few upper teeth: "She looks Biblically wrong. You’re not supposed to see living things’ insides as they go about their business, and she’s got mange, and a limp I think, and the inside of her face is the outside. ... She’s morbidly fascinating."

The first reaction is usually horror when people see photos or videos on the internet of "Jawless Jerry." That’s the name given to a coyote spotted many times in Tacoma, Wash., throughout 2023 with its entire snout and upper jaw missing.

"I was afraid I was gonna have nightmares that night. It's really bizarre," said Laura Prugh, a wildlife ecologist at University of Washington currently doing a study on Seattle coyotes. She’s seen coyotes with three legs, and worse, but nothing as terrifying and confounding as this one. It has survived for months with no nose to sniff out prey, and only half a set of teeth to eat with.

"I knew they were very adaptable and resilient, but I had no idea they could survive something like that," Prugh said. (Another researcher studying coyotes in Chicago said it is something that happens "from time to time.")

In the last few months, this coyote with half a face has inspired newspaper op-eds, allegations it killed pets, and calls to put it down. The News Tribune even reported a neighbor caught Jawless Jerry, and Jawless Jerry escaped.

Some Tacomans have fallen in love.

"Talk about horrific, but that dude is thriving," said Scott Sherman, a local photographer, in a TikTok video posted in October.

It included a photo of the coyote answering nature's call in the middle of the street. It’s not the only video of that – another, set to Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation," was posted by Grit City Magazine on Instagram.

That outlet said video from a motion-sensor camera shows Jawless Jerry is actually female.

Grit City Magazine staff are among Jawless Jerry's biggest fans: Before Christmas, they sold hundreds of shirts and stickers saying "LONG LIVE JAWLESS JERRY."

"We’re all rooting for Jerry, right?" Grit City Magazine artist Nina Hartman wrote in an email. Hartman works at the magazine and created a cute (-ish) drawing of Jerry for the shirts and stickers. A different shirt from another shop has Jerry above the words "Keep Tacoma Feared."

"Maybe she’s a physical representation of the scrappiness and grittiness a lot of Tacomans feel proud of," Hartman said. "Maybe she’s a niche mascot. I hope she lives a good, long life."

Grit City Magazine is donating 10% of the proceeds from its Jawless Jerry merchandise to wildlife rehab centers. Members of the public have contacted the Department of Fish and Wildlife trying to get the coyote into one of those centers, but a spokesperson said it would be too stressful. They plan to let Jawless Jerry continue to run wild.

Updated: January 4, 2024 at 3:26 PM PST
A Tacoma resident confirmed to KNKX on Facebook that they found the body of a coyote missing its snout on Jan. 3rd on the side of Interstate 5, and buried it. They believe "Jawless Jerry" was hit by a car.
Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.