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One of the seven puppies who was stuffed inside a plastic bag and dumped in a recycling bin behind a Coachella business, where a good Samaritan rescued the litter, has died, officials said Thursday.
Riverside County Department of Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said that the puppies' foster keeper informed the agency Wednesday that the runt of the litter had expired.
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"She said the little one might have been on the bottom of the bag when the woman dumped the puppies into a trash bin and, possibly, just never recovered from that traumatic moment," Welsh said. "The good news is that the remaining six puppies are appearing to thrive."
The days-old terrier mixes were placed in Noni Boen Schirm's care soon after they were rescued from the dumpster behind a Napa Auto Parts store at 49251 Grapefruit Blvd. on April 18.
The suspect, 54-year-old Deborah Sue Culwell of Coachella, was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony animal cruelty and posted a $10,000 bond Tuesday, after which she was released from the Indio Jail.
After she was taken into custody, animal control officers seized 38 canines from Culwell's Third Street residence. The impounded dogs were taken to the county's Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms, where they are under veterinary care.
"All 38 received thorough examinations by one of our staff veterinarians, and no serious ailments were reported," Welsh said.
He said that although the dogs are in protective custody, they still legally belong to Culwell, who has 10 days to request a hearing on disposition of the canines. After the 10-day window closes, the county can move forward with acquisition proceedings, putting the pets into nonprofit rescues, or offering them for adoption from the Thousand Palms facility, according to Welsh.
In the meantime, Culwell is on the hook for the $570 in daily board and care fees resulting from the dogs' impoundment, he said.
Security surveillance video from the auto parts store showed a woman with a ponytail and wearing a short skirt exiting a Jeep with a plastic bag just after 1 p.m. last Thursday, depositing the sealed bag in the bin. The suspect was ultimately identified as Culwell, according to Welsh.
A passerby rummaged through the bin about 15 minutes later and found the bag full of squealing puppies. The passerby, identified only as "John," quickly took them into the air-conditioned store. As the mercury climbed above 90 degrees, Welsh doubted the newborns would have survived very long without the intercession, described by an animal control officer as "heroic."
Welsh said the surviving puppies have not been reunited with their mother because all of the dogs' status is in limbo until the protective custody order lapses, and no one is certain which dog is the mother because several seized from Culwell's property appeared to have recently had litters.
Welsh said the Department of Animal Services has submitted a request to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office for seven animal cruelty charges to be filed against Culwell.
If convicted, she could face up to six years in jail, according to spokesman John Hall. But Welsh acknowledged that jail time in a cruelty case is rare, with most offenders receiving probation and fines.