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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tacoma woman wants to save city’s maimed coyote. Noble quest or hopeless mission?

A coyote pup surveys the area.  (National Park Service)
By Matt Driscoll (Tacoma) News Tribune

It’s a moment etched in her mind.

She remembers it was sunny, unusually warm for early fall.

She remembers the look on the animal’s face, how the fear and anxiety seemed to melt away – just for an instant.

The woman’s name is Roxanne. She’s a Tacoma resident who has inserted herself into a bizarre and heartbreaking story that has captured local attention in recent months. She asked the News Tribune to withhold her full name, out of fear for her personal safety and potential reprisal. We’ll get to all that in a moment.

The animal, on the other hand, needs no introduction:

It’s the coyote, the one with half a face, missing a huge chunk of its jaw. The one you’ve probably seen online or on the news.

The first time Roxanne got close to the wild animal – the moment she now recalls so vividly – was roughly a month ago, when she quietly followed it to an open field.

There was no one else around, Roxanne told me Wednesday. As she hunkered in the tall grass, undetected, she said the coyote basked in a moment of respite, temporarily relieved of the threat of capture or further harm.

Roxanne knows Tacoma’s famed and maimed coyote better than most. Since October, she’s been hot on its trail.

Her latest encounter with the coyote was much more recent, on Nov. 12, when she tracked it to the crawl space of a neighbor’s house, she said.

There, Roxanne captured the injured animal, she explained, using equipment she’d purchased and some on loan from a professional trapper.

Then, on Nov. 14, the coyote escaped.

Video provided to the News Tribune and posted online seems to confirm Roxanne’s story, depicting the coyote, disfigured by its injuries, pacing an enclosure surrounded by sturdy wire fencing.

Roxanne had hoped to secure safe transport of the animal to an area wildlife veterinarian for a full medical evaluation and possible treatment, she told me.

If the coyote was deemed healthy enough, she believes it deserves a fresh start at an area wildlife refuge.

To Roxanne, it seems simple, even obvious. But as it turns out, what she considers an act of compassion and kindness is more complicated.

The unauthorized trapping of wild animals is illegal under state law, a spokesperson for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed to the News Tribune – and strongly discouraged. Offenses can carry penalties of up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

The only problem?

There’s something about the coyote’s well-documented plight that compels Roxanne to keep going.

Local legend

Tacoma’s injured coyote rose to stardom last summer.

Like so many viral phenomena, it started online, through forums like Reddit and local Facebook groups.

The injuries are ghastly: in the photos and video that quickly circulated, the top half of its jaw appears to have been sawed off, exposing its tongue and nasal cavity. It’s riddled with mange, its fur patchy and its skin infected.

The interest is understandable, and it’s only grown in the months since.

How did the horrific injury occur? Was it an act of animal cruelty? How does it survive? Most important, what’s being done to help it – and ease its suffering?

They’re questions that have been top of mind in Central Tacoma and Hilltop, where the coyote has most often been spotted. By merely surviving, it has become an overnight local legend, inspiring names, memes and front-page stories in the Weekly Volcano, the local alt-press paper. Some call it “Jawless Jerry.”

In the process, the injured animal has become a flashpoint in passionate debates over what measures should be taken and what’s considered humane.

Roxanne – who has come closer than most – prefers to call it Quasi, like Quasimodo, the fictional character created by Victor Hugo, feared and persecuted for being different. The nickname was originally bestowed on the coyote by what she describes as a “local underground feeding network.”

For starters, it’s female, Roxanne contends, so “Jawless Jerry doesn’t really fit,” she told me.

Mostly, though, Roxanne thinks Quasi is more fitting.

“The reason they call her Quasimodo is because of the story of Quasimodo, who all the town’s people hated. He was the kindest, sweetest soul, but they didn’t understand him,” Roxanne said.

“He was misunderstood.”

Talking in circles

Like many, Roxanne first learned of the coyote online.

There was something about what she saw that moved her profoundly, she told me, and while she’d never attempted anything of the sort, she set her sights on coming to its aid.

Roxanne was perturbed by the response of state and local wildlife officials, who in her estimation were talking in circles.

Most suggested the situation didn’t warrant intervention. But some said if captured, the animal would surely need to be euthanized. If it wasn’t serious enough to require intervention, she wondered, how do we know it needs to be euthanized if its caught?

College-educated and in her mid-40s, Roxanne got to work. Through her website and social media channels, she successfully collected information from neighbors and nearby residents that allowed her to map the coyote’s habits and patterns. She’s attracted supportive followers and received threats of physical violence in the process, she told me.

She also purchased more than $1,000 in tracking equipment, including night-vision goggles, to improve her chances. She’s currently pursuing trapping certification online, she said.

Roxanne admits it’s a lot – more than most would do.

But she’s troubled and can’t seem to let it go – even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t.

“Nothing is being done. She needs to be trapped, and she needs to be evaluated to see if she can still have a good quality of life,” Roxanne said, describing her motivation.

“She’s an incredible creature. She’s been through hell and back.”

The quest

Roxanne’s quest came to a head roughly two weeks ago.

With the injured coyote secure in the trap, she set out to follow through on her plan – the first step of which involved transporting the animal to a local wildlife vet.

There was a hiccup, however. The vet she had previously spoken with now refused to see the animal, fearing the wrath of state officials. The nearby animal rescue agency she’d spoken to told a similar story, leaving her with nowhere to turn. She declined to identify both by name publicly.

As Roxanne attempted to cobble together a Plan B – one that, in her estimation, would likely involve crossing state lines – the injured coyote managed to slip through a tiny opening in her enclosure and escaped, she explained.

She’s essentially back to square one but remains resolute.

One way or another, she’s committed to giving Tacoma’s infamous coyote a shot, and she holds out hope it could still happen.

“I’ve never done anything like it before. I just feel very connected to her safety, and nobody else is protecting her,” Roxanne said.

“I have this push. Maybe it’s divine intervention,” she added. “Maybe it’s what I’m supposed to do?”

Flawed approach?

For all her sincere concern, Roxanne’s approach is flawed, according to recommendations provided by state Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Jennifer Becar.

Fish and Wildlife often responds to reports of injured wildlife interacting with humans, and in nearly every instance, the agency urges the public to steer clear and avoid feeding the animals, Becar said.

In the case of Tacoma’s famed coyote, Fish and Wildlife officials who have reviewed photos and video have determined the animal is gravely injured.

The best, most humane course of action is to let nature play out, Becar told me.

If the coyote is captured, it will need to be euthanized, she indicated.

While Becar sympathizes with people’s concerns and the desire to help, the best thing they can do is listen to the advice of wildlife officials, even if it tugs at their heartstrings, she said.

“In this specific case, the opinion of our biologists and some of the other wildlife professionals that we’ve been working with is that this coyote not a candidate for rehabilitation or captive placement,” Becar said. “It is our professional opinion that attempting to trap this animal and relocate it and then maybe try to care for it in captivity … would just cause a lot of added stress to this animal that has lived his whole life in the wild.”

“We’re aware of this coyote, but we are not attempting to trap it or place it like with a rehabilitator or in a sanctuary,” Becar added.

“If this coyote ended up being trapped, our recommendation would be humane euthanasia. … In situations like this, the best thing people can do is call us.”

Roxanne remains unconvinced.