Southern California

‘Puppies Aren't People' Argument From Accused Coachella Puppy Dumper's Lawyer Draws Gasps in the Courtroom

What to Know

  • Deborah Sue Culwell, 54, is accused of leaving puppies in a bin outside a Napa Auto Parts in Coachella on April 18.
  • Security video from the auto parts store allegedly shows the suspect throw a plastic bag full of puppies in a dumpster.
  • NBCLA captured her arrested on camera at her home, where 38 more dogs were found.

The lawyer for a Coachella woman suspected of dumping seven newborn puppies in the trash drew gasps in the courtroom when he argued "puppies aren't people" in an effort to stop his client's bail amount from being raised.

It didn't work.

Deborah Sue Culwell, 54, appeared for a felony settlement conference, during which a judge increased her bail — at the request of prosecutors — from $10,000 to $50,000. 

Riverside County Department of Animal Services
The puppies placed in a plastic bag and tossed in a Coachella dumpster on a hot day are getting fatter and crawling around, animal officials said May 14, 2019.

Culwell is accused of leaving a litter of 3-day-old puppies in a bin outside a Napa Auto Parts store at 49251 Grapefruit Blvd. on April 18.

Security surveillance video from the location linked her to the crime, authorities said.


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The video showed a woman with a ponytail in a short skirt exiting a Jeep with a plastic bag just after 1 p.m. and depositing the sealed bag in the bin, according to county Department of Animal Services spokesman John Welsh. A passerby rummaged through the bin about 15 minutes later and found the bag full of squealing puppies, believed to be terrier mixes, he said.

Seven newborn puppies that were dumped into a Coachella trash bin are receiving care. A woman police said was seen on surveillance video throwing them in the bin was arrested. Tony Shin reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

The passerby, identified only as "John," took the puppies into the air-conditioned store. With the temperature climbing above 90 degrees, Welsh said he doubted the newborns would have survived very long in the bin. One of the animals, described as the runt of the litter, died days later.

Culwell was taken into custody April 22 after animal control officers served an arrest warrant at her Third Street residence and impounded 38 canines found on the property. Culwell, who posted her $10,000 bail, subsequently surrendered ownership of the animals, which appeared to be terrier mixes ranging from 1 to 5 years old.

A woman is in custody after being accused of dumping a plastic bag full of live puppies into a dumpster. Tony Shin reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Joseph Cavanaugh, Culwell's attorney, tried to argue in court Thursday against Culwell's bail increase by saying "puppies aren't people," therefore Culwell shouldn't be held to the same standard as a person hurting another human, the Desert Sun reported.

The bail amount was raised to $50,000 anyway, and Culwell was taken back into custody. 

If convicted of seven felony animal cruelty counts, Culwell could face up to six years in jail, according to District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall. Welsh acknowledged, however, that jail time in an animal cruelty case is rare, with most offenders receiving probation and fines.

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