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California

Woman arrested on suspicion of dumping bag of newborn puppies in Coachella trash bin

A woman seen on video dumping a plastic bag filled with puppies in a Coachella trash bin on a day when temperatures were in the 90s was arrested Monday afternoon on suspicion of animal cruelty.

A man rummaging through a dumpster behind a Napa Auto Parts store at 49251 Grapefruit Blvd. found the clear bag just after 1 p.m. Thursday and brought it into the business, according to Riverside County Department of Animal Services. The bag contained seven puppies, believed to be terrier mixes, which were about 3 days old, authorities said.

Surveillance video released by authorities shows a woman in a tank-top and short skirt pulling up behind the store in a white Jeep Wrangler. Carrying the bag in one hand, she opens the lid of a receptacle used for recycling, peers inside and then closes it. She then tossed the bag atop an open, full trash bin next to it and drove away, authorities said.

Afternoon temperatures in Coachella that day were in the mid-90s, according to the National Weather Service.

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“There is no excuse for dumping puppies,” Riverside County Animal Services Cmdr. Chris Mayer said in a statement. “Especially in today’s age when we or other shelters would be willing to get these animals to foster parents or rescue partners. This was a shameful act.”

John Welsh, a spokesman for Animal Services, told The Times that authorities had “full knowledge” of who the woman is. Authorities secured an arrest warrant for Deborah Sue Culwell, 54, of Coachella about 4 p.m., he said.

Mayer drove to Culwell’s home and arrested her about 5:30 p.m. on suspicion of seven felony charges of animal cruelty and abandonment.

Welsh said she has a history of criminal offenses, including embezzlement and vehicle code violations.

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Mayer said Animal Services officers are working with sheriff’s investigators to build “a strong animal cruelty case.”

The man who brought the puppies inside the store is believed to be a transient, Welsh said. The man, identified only by his first name, John, found the puppies just a few minutes after they were discarded, Welsh said.

“They would have been on their way to the dump,” said Welsh, adding that the puppies probably would have quickly suffocated if the man hadn’t found them. “It’s a shock that these pups survived.”

Welsh said the bag containing the puppies was tied shut, and the animals had no ventilation. He said that he was personally horrified that the bag was clear and that the woman would have been able to see the puppies before discarding them.

The pups were taken to a Riverside County Animal Services campus, where they were cared for by veterinarians. The county partnered with MeoowzResQ, an organization in Orange that specializes in cat rescue. MeoowzResQ agreed to foster and bottle-feed the puppies, authorities said.

Welsh said that although MeoowzResQ works with cats, authorities had to move quickly because of the puppies’ age, and the organization offered to help. Bottle-feeding a cat or a dog that young requires much of the same kind of care, he said.

Welsh said it’s difficult for an animal that young to survive bottle-feeding and that if the animals die, the woman is at fault.

“That’s on her,” he said. “That’s a horrendous, conscious decision someone made.”

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City News Service contributed to this report.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson


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