‘Puppies aren’t people,’ says attorney for woman accused of tossing puppies in trash

INDIO, Calif. (KESQ/CNN/Gray News) – The California woman accused of dumping seven puppies in a trash container in April was back in court Thursday, but it was a statement made by her attorney that drew audible gasps from the courtroom.

Joseph Cavanaugh, the attorney defending 54-year-old Deborah Culwell, said her bail shouldn’t be increased because her alleged crimes are against animals and not people.

“As the law is written, puppies aren’t people,” Cavanaugh said during the hearing, drawing outrage in the courtroom.

Culwell is charged with seven counts of animal cruelty and seven counts of misdemeanor animal abandonment after authorities say she was caught on camera tossing a plastic bag containing 3-day-old puppies into a trash container in Coachella, California.

"I couldn't believe that, ‘Puppies are not people,’” said Katie Phillips, vice president of Society's Outkasts Animal Rescue. “Well, they are a living being, and I loved it when the entire audience gasped when he had the gall to say that about these precious creatures of the Earth."

Police said they also found 38 other dogs at Culwell’s home. She relinquished ownership of all her animals.

Two of those dogs now live at Phillips’ home, where she’s raising them before they find permanent homes.

"Well, I think from the day they were born they were probably isolated, away from humans,” Phillips said. “So, they don't even understand what human touch is all about. It's not a good thing. It's a scary thing."

Phillips has taken care of hundreds of dogs, and one of the dogs she took in has already found a rescue home.

As for the seven puppies thrown in the trash, one later died.

Culwell has pleaded not guilty. Her bail was initially set at $10,000, but prosecutors successfully argued in Thursday’s hearing that it should be raised to $50,000.

The Desert Sun reports Culwell had posted the $10,000 bail, but was taken into custody after the Thursday hearing.

In response to the criticism over his comment, Cavanaugh defended himself during an interview with KESQ.

"I understand, I mean, the statement was taken out of context," he said. "On the surface, yes, it's a callous statement, and it’s not to say I don't care for animals. I'm actually a dog lover myself. The issue was just trying to make the distinction between how the law looks at an animal versus the law looking at a person."

Copyright 2019 KESQ via CNN. Gray Television Group, Inc. contributed to this report. All rights reserved.