INDIO (CNS) - A Coachella woman suspected of dumping seven puppies in a trash dumpster pleaded not guilty today to felony animal cruelty charges.
Deborah Sue Culwell, 54, is accused of leaving the 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 allegedly linked her to the crime.
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.
The passerby, identified only as “John,” quickly took the puppies into the air-conditioned store. With the temperature climbing above 90 degrees, Welsh doubted the newborns would have survived very long without the intercession.
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 $!0,000 bail and remains out of custody, subsequently surrendered ownership of the animals, which appeared to be terrier mixes ranging from 1 to 5 years old.
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 a cruelty case is rare, with most offenders receiving probation and fines.
Culwell is due back in court on June 27 for a felony settlement conference, where Judge Harold Hopp will consider a request from the prosecution to increase her bail from $10,000 to $50,000.