A woman was who caught on camera dumping a bag filled with 3-day-old puppies into a trash bin behind a Napa Auto Parts store in Coachella last Thursday is being sought by Riverside County animal control and law enforcement officials, the Riverside County Animal Services said in a release on Facebook.
Officials say store surveillance video shows a woman with long dark hair, dressed in a dark tank top and skirt, pulled up in a white/light colored Jeep next to a trash bin outside the auto parts store just after 1 p.m.
In the video above, you can see the woman hop out of the vehicle, open one dumpster, peer inside, close the lid and then toss the bag into a different dumpster before getting back in the Jeep.
A good Samaritan saw the incident and contacted a store employee, who called the Riverside County Department of Animal Services. Officer Jose Cisneros arrived just before 2 p.m. and collected the puppies, believed to be terrier mixes, where they were brought to the nearest Riverside County animal campus. According to Riverside County Animal Services, 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 the pups.
With temperatures in the mid-90s, the puppies likely would have died in the heat had a passerby not seen the incident and stepped in. “If not for the Good Samaritan’s actions, the puppies may not have survived much longer,” said the Riverside County Animal Services stated on Facebook. “The mid-day temperatures in Coachella on Thursday were in the mid-90s range.”
“The good Samaritan played a major role in saving these puppies’ lives,” animal services Commander Chris Mayer said, according to the Riverside Facebook post. “His actions were humane and heroic.”
Video of the man who rescued the puppies recently surfaced on social media Monday afternoon. The footage below shows the man, who goes only by “John,” briefly walking around the dumpster before returning and pulling the bag of puppies out. He hesitates briefly before walking to the front of the auto parts store, where he leaves the dogs and walks away.
According to ABC News, minutes later, a customer looked in the bag and rushed the dogs inside, where they called Riverside County Animal Services.
In the department’s Facebook press release, Commander Chris Mayer said, “The Good Samaritan played a major role in saving theses puppies’ lives. His actions were humane and heroic.”
The woman in the video was identified late Monday afternoon as Deborah Sue Culwell, who often goes by “Debbie.” According to TMZ, Culwell was arrested on charges of animal cruelty, and officials are expected to charge the woman with seven felony counts of animal abuse, one for each puppy. If she’s found guilty on all counts, she could face up to six years in jail.
She was reportedly identified by several people on Twitter before her actual arrest, although it’s not clear at this time if any of the social media tips were what led police to arrest Culwell. KNX1070 Los Angeles reports that there were 30 additional dogs at Culwell’s home at the time of her arrest.
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.”
Mayer described the woman’s actions as “despicable,” and said they are working with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office to find and arrest the woman, who could face animal cruelty charges. The Riverside Animal Services Department is now hoping that someone will recognize the woman and turn her in.
“There is no excuse for dumping puppies,” Mayer said, according to Riverside County Animal Services. “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.”
According to USA Today, this is the second reported dumping of puppies 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, dehydrated and starving. They were rescued and taken to the Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms, where they were cared for by vets.