38 dogs found in home of woman accused of dumping puppies in trash bin

Sherry Barkas and Colin Atagi

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Animal control officers discovered 38 dogs at the home of a Coachella woman who was arrested Monday on suspicion of dumping a bag containing seven 3-day-old puppies behind an auto parts store in Coachella last week.

Some of the dogs were aggressive or fearful when officers discovered them at the home, which was "in a state of disrepair," according to the Riverside County Department of Animal Services. Most of them were healthy and they're being treated at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms.

None of the dogs were available for adoption as of Tuesday.

The suspect, Deborah Sue Culwell, was arrested just after 5 p.m. Monday. She's charged with seven counts of felony animal cruelty and seven counts of  misdemeanor abandoning animals, according to a criminal complaint.

Riverside County Animal Services officials believe this woman left seven puppies in a plastic bag near a trash bin in Coachella on Thursday, April 18, 2019.

The 54-year-old woman may be denied probation because of a 2011 conviction related to a fraud case involving stolen financial documents.

She's being held at the jail with bail set at $10,000. She is scheduled to appear in Riverside County Superior Court on Thursday – one week after the original incident, which gained national attention.

"This case has become very high profile with the media and (the) defendant may avoid law enforcement if not arrested in a timely manner," an Animal Services official wrote in a declaration for a walk-through arrest warrant.

Of the 38 dogs impounded, officials don't yet know which is the mother of the seven puppies. Some of the dogs appeared to be females that had recently given birth, an Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said. 

Culwell may have to identify the mom of the puppies, he added.

The puppies are doing well.

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The foster volunteer is "working tirelessly in keeping them healthy and thriving," Welsh said. "It's always touch and go with newborns."

The puppies are still weeks away from adoption, he added.

The adoption process would most likely be handled by the partner organization that pulled the puppies from Animal Services, so the county agency may not be involved with the process.

The 38 dogs impounded seem to be in fairly reasonable health, there are some skin and other issues, but all minor, Welsh said Tuesday, adding that euthanasia is not something currently being considered for any of them.

It is possible the dogs are all related, possibly inbred, officials don't know yet. 

Officials said store surveillance video shows a woman with long dark hair, dressed in a dark blue or black tank top and skirt, pulled up in a Jeep next to a trash bin outside a Napa Auto Parts store just after 1 p.m Thursday.

The Jeep belonged to the suspect's mother, investigators said.

The video shows the woman got out of the vehicle carrying a plastic bag. She walked toward a bin used for recycling materials, opened the lid and then dropped the bag in and drove away, animal services officials said Friday.

A passerby saw the incident and placed the bag of puppies – five males and two females – near the store's entrance, where a second person found them. Animal Services Officer Jose Cisneros arrived just before 2 p.m. and collected the puppies, believed to be terrier mixes.

The puppies were brought to a Riverside County animal campus, where veterinarians cared for them. MeoowzResQ, a Southern California rescue group that specializes in kitten and cat rescue, has partnered with animal services to foster the puppies and take over bottle-feeding duties.

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Temperatures in Coachella on Thursday were in the mid-90s, and if the passerby had not stopped and found the puppies when he did, they likely would have died in the heat, animal services officials said.

“The good Samaritan played a major role in saving these puppies’ lives,” animal services Cmdr. Chris Mayer said. “His actions were humane and heroic.”

It is the second case of puppies being dumped in Riverside County in a month. In March, animal services reported two puppies were found in a trash bin at Desert Recycling in Thousand Palms.

They were dehydrated and malnourished and taken to the Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms, where they were cared for by vets. 

“There is no excuse for dumping puppies,” Mayer said. “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.”

Anyone with information about this incident may call Riverside County Animal Services at (951) 358-7387.

Follow Sherry Barkas and Colin Atagi on Twitter: @TDSSherryBarkas and @tdscolinatagi.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: 38 dogs found in home of woman accused of dumping puppies in trash bin