Deborah Sue Culwell has been identified as the woman who was caught on surveillance video throwing seven three-day-old puppies into a dumpster in Coachella, California. Culwell, 54, also known as “Debbie Culwell,” has been arrested on charges of animal cruelty.
Per TMZ, officials are expected to charge the woman with seven felony counts of animal cruelty, one for each puppy. If she’s found guilty on all counts, she could face up to six years in jail. She was also charged with seven misdemeanor counts of abandoning an animal, according to jail records.
Culwell did not comment when a reporter approached her during her arrest. It is not clear if she has hired an attorney.
Here’s what you need to know about Deborah Sue Culwell and the incident:
1. Culwell Was Caught on Camera Throwing a Bag of Seven Newborn Puppies into a Dumpster in Coachella
On Friday, Officials at the Riverside County Animal Services in Coachella, California, released surveillance footage in which Culwell could be seen tossing a bag into a dumpster. That sealed bag contained seven three-day-old puppies, believed to be some type of terrier mix.
John Welsh, the center’s public information officer, told BuzzFeed that the identity of the woman was established by Monday, allowing them to get a warrant for her arrest shortly after. He said to BuzzFeed, “We know who she is and we now know her full name.”
Multiple people who claim to know Culwell have since stated that the jeep she was driving in the video is not hers, and belongs to a friend.
The dumpster in question was located next to an auto parts store. An employee from that store called Animal Services to let them know that a man had found the puppies in the dumpster. The surveillance video was found shortly after. Since it’s been posted, it has gone viral.
The puppies have since been given veterinary treatment and were connected with a partnering rescue organization called MeoowzResQ, which will ensure they are adopted into loving homes, according to the press release.
“We’re talking about seven pups tossed in the garbage like they were trash,” John Welsh, a spokesman for the animal services agency, told The Washington Post. “It’s a pretty serious case as far as animal cruelty goes.”
About Culwell’s Coachella home, where more than 30 other dogs were found, Chris Mayer, commander of field operations for Riverside County Animal Services, told KESQ-TV, “You can imagine, it looks like a house that has 30 dogs inside. We’re impounding them because there’s nobody here to take care of them and there’s a lot of them in a small residence and it’s just not good living conditions.”
2. The Temperature Outside Was Pushing 90 Degrees Fahrenheit; Police Say the Puppies Wouldn’t Have Lived if They Weren’t Found Immediately
At the time that Culwell dumped the puppies in the dumpster, the temperature was pushing towards a scorching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only were the puppies still extremely vulnerable at three days old, but they were thrown into the hot dumpster in a sealed plastic bag. They would have undoubtedly died, Welsh said, if they weren’t found as quickly as they were.
Welsh told BuzzFeed, “That’s a window of 15 minutes — had he not called us, those dogs are dead. That guy is a hero in our mind.”
In the department’s Facebook press release, Commander Chris Mayer said, “The Good Samaritan played a major role in saving these puppies’ lives. His actions were humane and heroic.”
Leading up to the arrest of Culwell, the police asked for the public’s help in locating her. It’s unclear whether the public did play a direct role in locating her identity, but the video, and the situation in question, has drawn international attention, with thousands of people watching the video and even more sharing articles and thoughts on the horrific act.
In the Facebook press release, Mayer condemned the actions of the woman, saying in part, “There is no excuse for dumping puppies. 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.”
It does appear that multiple Twitter users tweeted Culwell’s apparent connection to the case at least a day before Culwell was arrested, though it’s not clear if police located Culwell through those means or found her otherwise. One user, who appears to have been the first to have identified Culwell, tweeted at one point on Monday, “If people would just listen to me, she’d be incarcerated already … I’m still confident this is the animal abuser… everyone will see sooner or later, don’t say I didn’t warn everyone”
3. Culwell, Who Remains in Custody at the Indio Jail, Has a Previous Conviction in a Felony Fraud & Drug Case in Riverside County
Deborah Sue Culwell was convicted in 2011 in a fraud case in Riverside County, according to online court records. Culwell was convicted in a plea deal of forgery, specifically a fictitious or altered bill, note, or check. She was also convicted of receiving stolen property and possession of controlled substances. Five other charges of receiving stolen property, two charges of forging a signature, three charges of defrauding another person and a drug paraphernalia possession charge were dropped.
Culwell was sentenced to 36 months of probation and 120 days of jail time, with 111 of those days served as part of the county jail’s work-release program. She was also ordered to pay restitution. Further details about the case were not immediately available.
In the animal cruelty case, Culwell remained in custody on April 23 at the Indio Larson Justice Center, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office website. Her bail is set at $10,000. Her next court date has not yet been set.
Because of her previous felony record, Culwell could face a more serious penalty in the animal cruelty case.
4. Twitter Users Have Condemned Culwell’s Actions in Droves
As you might expect, the video of Culwell allegedly dumping puppies in a dumpster has not gone over well on Twitter. Users have come in droves to attack her actions, condemning her for such an apparently heartless act.
One user wrote, “Evil B*tch….why can’t people take them to animal shelters or whatever I just don’t understand”
Another wrote, “OMFG what a piece of SH*T goof! She just tosses them in like nothing then walks away flipping her hair back like a narsasstic [sic] loser!”
Still another wrote, “Honestly! What a fricken douche bag this chick is!!! I hope they find her!!! Thank God the pups are safe.”
5. A Good Samaritan Named John Is Responsible for Saving the Puppies
A “Good Samaritan,” who has been identified as “John” is responsible for saving the puppies when he found them in the dumpster at the Napa Auto Parts store, according to Riverside County Animal Services. John, who was described by Welsh as “transient,” was rummaging through the dumpster when he found the puppies and took them out of the harsh conditions.
The Riverside County Animal Services said in a statement that the puppies, believed to be terrier mixes, were rescued just in time.
“If not for the Good Samaritan’s actions, the puppies may not have survived much longer. The mid-day temperatures in Coachella on Thursday were in the mid-90s range,” Riverside County Animal Services said in a statement. ”
Welsh told The Washington Post, “He just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”
John told KESQ-TV, “They were all sweaty and obviously they were all hungry. was kind of in shock to see the way that she threw it…carelessly without emotion like it was just a regular old bag of trash.”